Living in a country that is foreign to oneself can be quite difficult, especially during the 400 B.C.E. era. Now, imagine being a woman. A woman has an even lower rank than a foreign man in the Greek culture. It’s even more burdensome when you’re a foreign woman because this is only one step above slaves and peasants. Medea happens to carry this challenge, plus many more in the self-titled play, Medea by Euripides.
Medea is a woman that lives in Corinth with her husband, Jason, and two unnamed sons. She’s originally from Colchis, and is the daughter of King Aeetes. She moved to Corinth after slaughtering her own brother, helping Jason steal the Golden Fleece, and being exiled with him. This shows that regardless of coming from a royal family or not, that being a woman still gives you a lower ranking.
After being together for years and having two children together, Medea is suddenly heartbroken when Jason announced that he was divorcing her for the princess of Creon. He claimed that he is “not one to abandon family” (Euripides, 769). Medea doesn’t react normally to this news. Instead, she plans to kill the princess and her children, due to the fact that Creon, the King of Corinth, let her stay an extra day before she was exiled. He told her that “he’s really not a tyrant”, and that she would have to leave the next day or she would be killed. (Euripides, 767). This gives her plenty of time time to create and carry out her dark and mischievous plot.
Undergraduate, Kirsten M. Jaqua, who attends the University of Colorado Boulder, states in her honors thesis that Medea is “the feminine ‘other’ that contrasts with masculine identity” (Jaqua, 8). This happens to be true when it comes to Medea and her ex-husband, Jason. In the first conversation between Medea and Jason, he makes it aware to her that he is the man of the terminated relationship by overpowering what she has done for him. A handful of the heroic actions she did for Jason includes helping him plow a field, steal the Golden Fleece, and becoming a murderess for him. He runs her down by saying Aphrodite contributed to his successful adventure, and that she was “compelled by Eros’s sure arrows to save [his] life” (Euripides, 771). Jason also makes it known to Medea that he ‘acted wisely, soberly, and in the best interest of [her] and the boys’ (Euripides, 771). He supports this claim by telling her that the he’s doing it so their children could be raised by royalty, receive benefits as being a part of the royal family, and not be exiled with their mother. In the end, this makes no sense due to the fact that their sons are not blood related to the royal family, and because Jason is ultimately making excuses to make himself look better for divorcing his wife.
Soon after speaking with Jason, Aegeus, the King of Athens visits with Medea. The beginning of the conversation starts with him stating that he and his wife are childless, and it quickly turns into Medea’s divorce when he notices that her face was red and stained with tears. They made an agreement that if he lets her stay in Athens and won’t exile her, she’ll give him the drugs he needs to become a father. With this set in place, Medea secures a place for her to live after she executes the princess.
At this point, it is safe to say that Medea is “incredibly headstrong” as well as being “fully aware of the unfortunate position of women in her time” (Willson, 2). She deals with the fact that she is a recently divorced woman, a single mother, and that her newly ex-husband is about to be remarried in such a short period of time. This is still relevant with the present.
After the agreement with King Aegeus is set in stone, Medea hatches her grand scheme. She plans to send a servant to Jason so he will meet up with her. When he arrives, Medea tells him that ‘his faithless marriage is a first-rate plan, advantageous, and well thought through’ (Euripides, 776). She will then convince Jason to take their children with him. Before they are off for the marriage ceremony, Medea gives their two sons one gift each for their step-mother to be. The presents are a robe and a golden crown that were drenched in poison. This is the ultimate plan to kill off the princess. After coming up with this, Medea decides to slaughter her children so Jason will have to suffer more than she has. This benefits her so that people will not think that she is ‘meek and mild or passive’, but rather that she is ‘the kind of person whose life has glory’, just as any woman should believe (Euripides, 777).
Jason comes over per Medea’s request. He brings his mightier-than-a-woman-just-because-I’m-a-man attitude and tells Medea that he is ‘eager to hear what [she] thinks [she] may need from [him] after all’ (Euripides, 778). Going along with her plot, Medea makes it seem like she is contradicting herself about her previous statements regarding the marriage and her behavior about their recent divorce. She tells Jason that she should not have turned on him because he is ‘marrying a princess and giving [their] sons new royal brothers’ (Euripides, 778).
Jason is now pleased with how Medea is acting. After Medea and Jason’s conversation, he takes their sons to the wedding, where they will be greeted by a premature death. Soon after they get there, the wedding takes place. At first, the princess didn’t want to take the boys in as family, but essentially changed her mind due to the fact that Jason asked her so they wouldn’t be exiled along with their mother. During what would be a modern reception, the children give their new step-mom her presents, the golden crown and dress. After putting on the garments, the princess fell into a chair and was close to hitting the floor. A guest that was attending the wedding thought that Jason’s new wife “was possessed by some god like Pan”, but she was actually dying because “the golden crown she had put in her hair spewed out a torrent of consuming flames, while those fine robes she got… were eating away at her pale flesh” (Euripides, 785). Her father, the King of Creon, made the mistake of holding his daughter and kissing her. He was then snatched by the robes and his flesh was melting off of his body.
After the saddening death of Jason’s new wife and father-in-law, Medea arrives and announces that she is going to commit infanticide. She is telling herself to guard her heart and to not think about “how sweet they are” and “how [she] gave them birth” (Euripides, 786). The brothers scream out of fear for their lives. In the end, they are stabbed to death by their mother with a sword, all because of “the pain of women in marriage” (Euripides, 787).
Jason comes in, questioning if Medea is going to get away with her crimes and not receive punishment from the gods. It is now made known to him that his sons are deceased a short while after he finds out about his new princess and father-in-law. It is then that Medea flies in with her chariot pulled by dragons, containing the corpses of her children. Jason is shaming his ex-wife and claiming that the reason she killed everybody is “just because of some sexual grievance” (Euripides, 788). He then continues with his demeaning nature by saying that he was “in a hateful, ruinous marriage with an inhuman wife, a lioness more savage than Etruscan Scylla” and telling her to go to hell. (Euripides, 788). After this, Medea flies away, ultimately winning by making Jason feel worse than her.
Overall, this was the result of how women were treated in this era. They were overpowered by men at the time, but Medea stands up for herself as a woman. This speaks volumes about herself, and the fact that a man created a fictional character that happens to be a feminist.
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