MedEA - CLAS Users


Women in Greek Tragedy


Medea: The Alien and mysterious

Questions about Medea

How did she meet Jason?

Where did she meet him?

Why did she help him?

How did she help him?

What were the consequences of her helping him?

What kind of powers did Medea have?

How did Jason treat her?

Jason’s marriage

Jason could not marry Medea because she was an alien; she was his concubine.

He wants to marry Kreousa because of ambition.

Kreousa would be the lawful wife.

How does Medea feel?

She decides to take action

Her objective is to punish Jason and his bride

Killing their children would be a fitting punishment, and would eliminate all ties between them.

The events:

All three main characters treat Medea with disrespect, thus sealing their fate

Medea sends a poisoned dress as a wedding present to Kreousa.

When she wears it, she bursts into flames.

Kreon tries to rescue her, and is also engulfed by the flames.

Medea kills her children, and escapes punishment, through a deus ex machina device


Medea is a multiple murderess and a cruel childkiller, and yet we sympathize with her. Why?

Instead of punishment she achieves redemption.


Why does Greek drama not like black and white characters, “good” and “bad” guys in the conventional sense?

Where do the cardboard “good”/”bad” stereotypes that dominate modern cinema come from?


The stereotypical evil wife of the Greek Drama.

She kills her husband Agamemnon, and rules instead of him along with her lover Aigisthos (Aeschylus Oresteia)

Eventually her son Orestes returns and kills his mother and her lover, but he is haunted by the Furies, send by her ghost to punish the matricide

Orestes is eventually vindicated through a court decision of the Areopagos, the ancient Athenian council which functioned as a homicide court.

Klytaimestra is justified for her actions in Iphigeneia in Aulis, but generally there is not much sympathy for a woman who transgressed the boundaries of her gender; she is too masculine as a character.


Daughter of Agamemnon and Klytaimestra

She is instrumental to the rescue of her baby brother and the punishment of her mother.

The Electra of Sophocles is almost mad. She is single-minded, determined, and vengeful.

The Electra of Euripides is more sophisticated, and less rigid

 Electra represents feminine virtue gone mad, but in the end she is justified, even if scary.


Like Electra, Antigone is essentially virtuous, in fact so much so, that nothing will stand between her and duty, not even the laws of the land.

She buries her dead brother, defying a ban of their uncle and regent Kreon

She is caught and punished by being buried alive.

Her fiance, Aimon, the son of Kreon kills himself.

The audience admires Antigone for her superior moral character, but the play has often been perceived as subversive because it advocates defiance of unjust laws.


The quintessential good wife, but there is more to it than the eye sees.

She offers to die instead of her cowardly husband

By doing so she acts like a man; she exhibits male courage, while her husband exhibits feminine cowardice

Thus the gender roles are reversed, which poses the question of whether Athenian audiences would view this reversal of gender roles as the reinforcement of a positive role model.

Other characters:

Dieaneira (Trachiniai) is vulnerable. She is the jealous wife, meaning well, and thus deserving our sympathy, but tragically misguided.

Phaedra (Hippolytos) is the unfaithful, sick woman, driven mad by an unholy desire

Andromache is the loyal but tragic wife, and

Hecuba is the suffering mother, who has witnessed her entire world collapse around her, only to be led to slavery in her old age

The women of Greek Tragedy

Strong, self-willed, they disobey orders,and make their own decisions, usually with grave consequences

In most cases it is not easy to condemn or praise them without questions or reservations; their characters contain moral ambiguity

Very often, although they mostly adhere to traditional feminine values, they transgress into the masculine sphere and exhibit qualities which an Athenian audience would typically identify as male traits.

These transgressions move much of the plot

They were meant to function as moral examples, but their morals are not black or white. The purpose of these characters to a large degree was to evoke debates on moral and social issues