Medea

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Medea
Study Guide by Course Hero
What's Inside
ABOUT THE TITLE
Medea is the main character in the play and is based on a
sorceress from Greek mythology.
j Book Basics ................................................................................................. 1
d In Context ..................................................................................................... 1
d In Context
a Author Biography ..................................................................................... 2
h Characters .................................................................................................. 3
Ancient Greek Theater
k Plot Summary ............................................................................................. 5
The drama festivals where tragedies such as Medea were
c Scene Summaries .................................................................................... 9
g Quotes ......................................................................................................... 17
l Symbols ...................................................................................................... 18
performed began as gatherings to honor the wine god
Dionysus. At the earliest festivals, large groups would dance
and sing hymns praising the god. This was the earliest form of
the chorus. Then, in the 6th century BCE, Thespis, a poet,
became the first actor when he joined in and interacted with
m Themes ....................................................................................................... 19
b Glossary of Literary Terms and Devices ................................... 20
e Suggested Reading ............................................................................... 21
the chorus. (It is from Thespis's name that the word thespian
emerged, which means "actor.")
For more than a century, theatrical productions continued to
feature very few actors, with just the playwright and later two
and then three actors portraying all the characters. All of the
actors were men. They wore masks with exaggerated
j Book Basics
expressions and used dramatic gestures that could be seen by
the entire audience in the vast open-air theaters of the day.
These theaters were constructed with steep fan-shaped walls
AUTHOR
of seats holding as many as 14,000 viewers looking down
Euripides
toward a raised stage. This construction helped the large
FIRST PERFORMED
431 BCE
GENRE
Tragedy
audience to hear the dialogue. It is also believed that the
mouthpieces of the masks may have been similar in structure
to megaphones in order to project the actors' voices.
As time passed the chorus shrank in size and became less
involved in the action. Instead, the chorus acted as an observer
PERSPECTIVE AND NARRATOR
of the characters and their actions. Like narrators, the chorus
As is typical of ancient Greek plays, Medea's characters
described parts of the plot that happened outside of the play's
include a Chorus that functions as her moral advisors and the
action, interpreted the emotions of the characters, and
collective voice of society.
commented on the action. The chorus recited and sometimes
Medea Study Guide
sang its lines in unison, though at times the chorus leader
would speak alone. In addition, the chorus would dance. It
Author Biography 2
a Author Biography
moved in a circular motion in one direction for the strophe, or
first part of its song, and then reversed direction for the
Few details about Euripides's life are documented. He was
second part of the song, called the antistrophe. In Greek
born around 485 BCE. He was likely from a fairly wealthy
comedy the chorus eventually disappeared, to be replaced by
family and was initially educated to become an athlete. Among
intermittent singing.
Euripedes's tutors was the foremost sophist Protagoras,
whose ideas influenced his own. Protagoras was a known
Dramatic Structure of Greek
Tragedies
agnostic concerning the gods, a viewpoint that was not
uncommon among the educated elite of Greek society; he
famously wrote, "Man is the measure of all things." In general
sophists valued and practiced skepticism and the use of clever
rhetorical argument to sway others' opinions and acquire
In ancient Greece tragedies were performed in one sitting, so
political power. Even in their own time, sophists were viewed
they did not have the acts, scenes, or intermissions of modern
with distaste and considered amoral tricksters. Euripedes's
theater. The dramatic structure often given to Greek tragedies
fellow pupil and lifelong friend Socrates was also tarred with
follows: prologos (introduction to the topic), parados
the sophist brush by many of his contemporaries. This
(choreographed entrance of the chorus, who chant the
association with sophism was used against both Euripides and
background to the present story), episode (a dialogue scene
Socrates by their detractors.
between characters—including the chorus—in which they
describe action that has occurred elsewhere), stasimon (the
chorus's comment on the scene and the action described), and
exodos (final comment by the chorus giving the moral of the
play). Medea follows this structure.
Euripides might have grown up on the island of Salamis, where
his parents owned some property, and he probably wrote many
of his plays there. The 1997 archaeological excavation of a
cave on the island found a clay pot inscribed with the
playwright's name, dating from the era in which he lived.
Though the inscription had been added at a later date, the
The Dionysia
Medea was first performed at the Dionysia, a famous Athenian
drama festival. It grew in popularity in the 5th century and
discovery gave weight to historical evidence that Euripides
wrote in the cave. He was married and had three sons. He died
in 406 in Macedonia, where he had spent several years as a
member of King Archelaus's court.
included dramatic competitions. The three best-known Greek
Euripides left a large body of work—about 92 plays and many
tragic playwrights of the time were Sophocles, Euripides, and
fragments. His complete tragedies include Alcestis (438 BCE),
Aeschylus. Many of their tragedies, like Medea, were based on
Medea (431), Hippolytus (428), Electra (c. 418), The Trojan
Greek mythology. Even though Athenian audiences knew these
Women (415), and The Bacchae (410).
stories, Greek tragedy added theatrical elements, thoughtprovoking dialogues, and moral dilemmas to the familiar myths.
Medea is one of Euripides's most famous tragedies. It not only
At the Dionysia in 432, Euripedes's submission of Medea
draws on Greek mythology but also explores the darker side of
received third place, which may have reflected its
its protagonist—a strong-willed and memorable female
unconventional treatment of a familiar story. As the British
character. This focus on the emotions and humanity of his
classical scholar Gilbert Murray put it, "Athenians in 432 [BCE]
characters sets Euripides apart from the other great
had not yet learn[ed] to understand or tolerate such work as
dramatists of Ancient Greece. Because of its dominant female
this."
lead, some consider Medea one of the earliest pieces of
feminist literature. Others disagree, saying that Euripides
actually held up Medea as an example of how women should
not behave.
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Medea Study Guide
h Characters
Medea
From Colchis, the land of the magical Golden Fleece, Medea is
the daughter of King Aeetes and granddaughter of Helios, the
sun god. She met and fell in love with Jason when he arrived in
Colchis on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Medea has magical
powers and used them to help Jason in his quest. The pair
ended up in Corinth, where they began raising their children.
But now Jason has left Medea to marry the princess of
Corinth. The play opens with Medea raging at Jason's betrayal.
She plots and executes her revenge on Jason, even denying
her parental feelings toward her children.
Jason
Jason was born a prince of Iolcus, but when his uncle Pelias
usurped the throne from Jason's father, Jason was sent to the
centaur Chiron to be trained as a Greek hero. When he was old
enough to seek his birthright—the throne of Iolcus—Jason
acquired a ship called the Argos and manned it with a crew
called the Argonauts. Jason and the Argonauts set sail to take
up King Pelias's challenge to bring the Golden Fleece to Iolcus.
Supported by Medea's magic, Jason used his hero training to
complete a series of difficult tasks set by King Aeetes of
Colchis, Medea's father. In the play Jason's betrayal of Medea
stings all the more because of how she has loved and helped
him throughout his exploits. He claims to want to help his
family by leaving Medea, but she doesn't see that as a valid
excuse.
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Characters 3
Medea Study Guide
Characters 4
Character Map
Father
New spouses
Jason
Father
Hero; remarries for
wealth and status
Ruler
Former
spouses
Creon
Second Son
Child of Medea and Jason
Medea
Ruler
Sorceress; betrayed,
seeks revenge
King of Corinth
Brothers
Murders
First Son
Murders
Child of Medea and Jason
Father
Murders
Princess
Princess of Corinth;
Jason's new wife
Main Character
Other Major Character
Minor Character
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Moral advisors
Chorus
Women of Corinth
Medea Study Guide
Plot Summary 5
Full Character List
Character
Description
Medea
Medea is Jason's wife and the mother
of his two children, whom she murders
as revenge for Jason's betrayal.
Jason
Jason is a Greek hero and Medea's
husband, who leaves her to marry the
Princess of Corinth for wealth and
social standing.
Second Son
Medea and Jason's two sons are killed
by their mother as revenge for their
father's infidelity.
k Plot Summary
Medea is set in the ancient Greek city-state of Corinth. Jason,
the heroic son of King Aeson of Iolcus, has left his wife, Medea,
and married the princess of Corinth. As the play begins, the
Nurse, Medea's slave, gives a monologue summarizing events
that took place before the play began. Jason had been given
Nurse
The servant of Medea, the Nurse
comments on Medea's emotional state.
Tutor
As the servant assigned to the children
of Medea and Jason, the Tutor also
comments on Medea's mental state
while watching over the children.
the task of capturing the Golden Fleece by the king, Pelias,
who took the throne of Iolcus away from Jason's father. The
Golden Fleece, a ram's gold skin, is defended by a dragon in
Colchis, a region on the Black Sea. With a group of men called
the Argonauts, Jason sailed to Colchis in the Argo and enlisted
the help of Medea, the king's daughter, to carry out the task.
Medea, who has magical powers, fell passionately in love with
Chorus
Leader
Leader of the Corinthian women who
speak for society.
Jason. She not only helped him, betraying her own family, but
married him. She then conspired to murder Pelias through
trickery, which forced the couple into exile in Corinth. They
Chorus
The Chorus is a group of Corinthian
women who speak for society as they
observe Medea's words and actions
and offer moral advice.
have two sons, but Jason wants more wealth and so has left
Medea for his new bride, the daughter of King Creon of
Corinth.
Medea is mad with rage at being dishonored and abandoned.
Creon
As the King of Corinth, Creon attempts
to banish Medea and her children, but in
the end he unwittingly allows her the
time she needs to take revenge.
The Nurse hears her crying to the gods from within her house
and worries about what Medea will do in her dangerous state
of mind. The Chorus—a group of Corinthian women who are
Medea's friends and serve as the voice of Greek society in the
Aegeus
Aegeus, the king of Athens, visits
Medea and offers her sanctuary in
exchange for magical help to cure his
sterility.
play—arrives onstage, and the Nurse fetches Medea to speak
to the women. Medea, however, will not be consoled. A
divorced woman has no respect, she tells them; she has no
city, no protection, and no relatives to help her.
Messenger
The Messenger reports the gory details
surrounding the murders of the
princess and King Creon.
King Creon arrives to order Medea and the children into exile,
because he fears Medea will harm his daughter, given her
experience in "evil ways." After Medea begs to remain for one
Princess
First Son
Although she does not appear in the
play, the princess is an important target
of Medea's revenge and is described as
vain and disdainful of Jason's sons.
Medea and Jason's two sons are killed
by their mother as revenge for their
father's infidelity.
day, the king grants her wish—foolishly, for Medea begins
plotting the murder of his daughter. Jason appears to say that
Medea deserves her exile for slandering the royal house. When
Medea reminds him of all the crimes she committed to help him
and of their children, Jason belittles her help. He claims he did
more for her than she for him and says he's marrying the
princess to give his children financial security. Medea refuses
his offer of help, saying,"Gifts from a worthless man are
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Medea Study Guide
without value."
When Aegeus, the king of Athens, comes to ask Medea for
some advice, Medea asks him to take her in, and he agrees.
After he exits Medea reveals to the Chorus her plan to send
the children to the princess with a poisoned robe and tiara,
then kill the children. She feels she has no other choice with
"no father, no home, no refuge." Soon a messenger from
Creon's house comes to say the princess and king are both
dead; in trying to lift his dead daughter, the king became
entangled in the poisoned robe and died. Medea next enters
the house to kill the children, and the audience hears their cries
for help.
Jason arrives to the news that the boys are dead. As Medea
rises above the house in a winged chariot, the bodies of the
children inside, she taunts Jason: she has finally moved his
heart. She flies off to "Hera's sacred lands/in Acraia" to bury
her children and then go to Athens. The Chorus comments,
"What we don't expect/some god finds a way/to make it
happen."
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Plot Summary 6
Medea Study Guide
Plot Summary 7
Plot Diagram
Climax
7
Falling Action
6
Rising Action
8
5
4
9
3
Resolution
2
1
Introduction
7. Medea stabs her sons.
Introduction
1. Nurse and Tutor discuss Jason's betrayal; Medea cries.
Falling Action
8. Jason arrives to take his sons but learns they are dead.
Rising Action
2. Creon grants Medea one more day before her exile.
Resolution
3. Medea plots to kill Creon, Jason, and the princess.
9. Medea flies off in a winged chariot with her sons' bodies.
4. Medea arranges sanctuary in Athens.
5. Medea plans to kill her sons as her final revenge on Jason.
6. Medea sends poisoned gifts to kill the princess and Creon.
Climax
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Medea Study Guide
Plot Summary 8
Timeline of Events
The Beginning
The Nurse and Tutor discuss Medea's turmoil.
First Visitor
Medea begs Creon for a one-day reprieve.
Afterward
Medea uses poison to murder the princess and Creon.
Second Visitor
Medea has her first encounter with Jason, which is bitter.
Third Visitor
Medea asks King Aegeus for sanctuary, which he grants.
Afterward
Medea announces she will kill her sons.
Fourth Visitor
Medea hears how the princess and Creon died.
The End
Medea kills her sons and flies off in a winged chariot.
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Medea Study Guide
c Scene Summaries
Scene Summaries 9
suggests destruction and accompanies the introduction of the
symbol of offstage cries. The doors open as if the house were
breaking as Medea screams from within, calling on the world to
heed her anger.
Prologos
In her retelling of the tales of Jason's acquisition of the Golden
Fleece, the Nurse tells a story that would have been familiar to
Summary
the Athenian audience. Medea, already an exile from her family,
helped Jason, who needed the help of others, including that of
a sorceress from a non-Greek land. It is significant that the first
The prologos consists of the Nurse's monologue, the dialogue
line of the play references Jason's ship the Argo, which sailed
between the Nurse and the Tutor, and the bellows of Medea
from Greece to the land of Colchis, Medea's homeland. The
from within the house. In the Nurse's monologue, she wishes
Nurse takes the audience back to the source of the tragedy
for the erasure of past events, such as the making of Jason's
when she says, "O how I wish that the ship the Argo/had never
ship, the Argo, which sailed to Medea's land of Colchis in
sailed off." Had that one event not taken place, Jason and
search of the Golden Fleece. She laments the crimes Medea
Medea would not have met, and the present events would not
committed to help Jason, acknowledging that things between
be happening.
Jason and Medea had been "secure and safe" because they
had stood "as one." But Jason's betrayal has disrupted this
Euripides goes against convention by having servants relay
harmony.
information about the two main characters, who are already
entrenched in their new roles of betrayer and betrayed. The
The Nurse continues to set up the conflict in the play in her
setup of the main characters mirrors the mood of urgency,
monologue by telling of Jason's marriage to the princess of
where tragedy will unfold from their actions. The Nurse's words
Corinth, which causes Medea to despair, to "[waste] away,"
show the characters not as masters of the house who are
and to be "always in tears." She goes on to explain Medea's
above questioning but as failing humans whose decisions
exile from her homeland and her growing estrangement from
result in permanent consequences.
her own children. Fearing Medea may stab herself, the king, or
Jason, the Nurse calls her a "dangerous woman."
The Nurse and the Tutor discuss Medea's woe. The Tutor tells
Parados
the Nurse he overheard gossip that King Creon plans to banish
Medea and her children from Corinth. The Nurse curses Jason
for his rejection of his own sons. Asking the Tutor to keep the
Summary
children from Medea because of her rage, the Nurse hopes
this anger "falls on enemies, not on friends!" When Medea
enters to speak with the Nurse, she does, indeed, connect her
children with her rage toward Jason's betrayal, asking the
house and those in it to "crash down in ruins."
This section includes the entrance of the Chorus and the
dialogue between the Chorus and the Nurse. Summoned by
Medea's cries from within her house, the Chorus enters the
stage. The Nurse and the Chorus speak about Medea's plight,
and the Nurse says that Medea receives no comfort from
friends. Inside, Medea cries out for death and laments her past
Analysis
misdeeds to help Jason. The Chorus asks the Nurse to tell
The prologos creates an urgent, tension-filled atmosphere,
that music could comfort human sorrow and suffering.
crackling with the reverberations of Medea's fury. The Nurse
introduces the themes of passion and betrayal in her first few
sentences, and they are reinforced when the audience hears
Medea's cries from within the house. Medea's temper is
"intense," and the Nurse muses it will "catch fire." This
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Medea to come out of the house and speak. The Nurse wishes
When the Chorus hears Medea's cries, it comments that the
gods she is calling to watched over her on her dangerous
journey from her homeland of Colchis to Greece through
places many do not travel. One of these is "the strait which
guards the Pontic Sea." This references the journey of the
Medea Study Guide
Scene Summaries 10
Argonauts, when the Argo slipped through the clashing black
agrees that Jason needs some form of punishment. The
rocks on each side of a narrow strait. Few ships could navigate
Chorus says to Medea, "You are right/to pay your husband
the area, and Jason, with the help of his crew and Medea, was
back."
able to do so.
When Creon enters he tells Medea that he's heard of her
threats of revenge. Because of this Creon orders Medea and
Analysis
her two children into exile. Creon fears Medea's rage and
abilities as a sorceress. Medea downplays her cleverness,
The Chorus enters and speaks for Greek society, giving voice
saying she hates only Jason and will be silent. She asks that
to moral issues and offering a counterpoint of reasonable
she and her children be allowed to remain in Corinth. Initially
judgment to Medea's passionate cries. Though the Chorus has
Creon refuses, but he relents when Medea begs for one more
yet to speak with Medea, it presents itself as a group of friends
day to prepare for her exile.
who can console her in her time of pain. The gods are
mentioned in this section: Medea cries for Themis, the goddess
of justice and promises, and to Artemis, the goddess of the
hunt. Her choice of these goddesses reflects her need for
revenge as well as her own feminine strength and partial
divinity.
The brief lines from the Nurse on music could be a reference
Medea tells the Chorus she placated Creon only to gain an
advantage. She reveals that she wants to "turn three of my
enemies/to corpses—father, daughter, and my husband."
Medea ponders how to kill them and decides, as long as she
can secure sanctuary for herself afterward, to use poison. A
more direct means, such as the sword, would only end in her
own death.
to the Muses, who inspired humans in the arts or sciences. The
Nurse sets the audience up for imminent tragedy, and,
although she wishes human sorrow could be "cured" by music,
Analysis
she admits this cure has never been found. Traditionally, it was
the chorus's job to explicate characters' feelings and deeds,
In her first speech, Medea switches quickly from rational
but Euripides pushes against the confines of classical tragedy
speech to heated words. Her arguments skip from point to
by making the Nurse the one to comment on Medea's moods
point about the hardships of women, without landing on one
and actions. This is an early indication of his dwindling reliance
clear, cohesive speech. And yet the audience gets a sense of
on the chorus as a narrator and direct commentator on the
her inner journey, her need to travel to a place where she is not
action of his plays.
the foreigner and to a place where Jason pays for his betrayal
of their family.
Episode 1
Medea's rage clouds any fair and moral judgement. She speaks
of her "special skill" of sorcery to concoct the poison to murder
her enemies. Just as the Greek actors wore masks to
Summary
represent emotions or characters, Medea wears a mask with
Creon, feigning docility and resignation, when actually she is
manipulating him, preying on his dedication to fatherhood to
Episode 1 includes the entrance of Medea, dialogue between
secure one more day to execute her plan. Euripides shows
Medea and Creon, and dialogue between Medea and the
Medea's traits through her interactions with Creon: she has the
Chorus. Medea enters the stage to speak to the Chorus about
ability to assess the situation. And just as she can switch from
the unfortunate lot of women. She laments how men rule
rational to emotional argument, so she can change tactics to
women's bodies in marriage, how women must work to learn
gain what she needs to carry out her revenge. She reads
their husbands' needs in marriage, and how divorce brings
Creon's weaknesses immediately and exploits them.
shame to women but not to men. She also speaks of the pain
of childbirth, preferring to be in battle than to give birth. She
The theme of exile is presented in this section: Medea as a
says that, when a woman is hurt by love and her marriage
woman in exile, alone with two children, is a desperate image.
betrayed, her heart is "desperate for blood." The Chorus
She pleads her need to provide for her children because, as
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Medea Study Guide
she says, Jason refuses to do so. In actuality, after Creon's
exit, Medea calls on her noble parentage, her divine heredity,
Scene Summaries 11
Episode 2
and her worship of Hecate (the goddess of magic) to help her
with her plot.
Stasimon 1
Summary
Episode 2 is Medea's first encounter with Jason. Throughout
the play they fight bitterly, casting names and insults at each
other. When Jason enters he immediately accuses Medea of
Summary
The Chorus comments that Medea has reversed the usual flow
of history. The man is no longer in control, no longer the one
singing of women's faithlessness. Lamenting women's inability
to "[make] sacred music" or sing responses to the songs of
men, the Chorus has sympathy for Medea, a foreigner
deserted by her husband. The Chorus restates the unfortunate
making her situation worse with her "stupid chatter." He
believes she and the children would otherwise have been
allowed to remain in Corinth. Medea recounts all she did to
help Jason attain the Golden Fleece, saying her love for him
was greater than her "wisdom" and reminding him that she has
no homeland any longer because of the crimes she committed
to help him. She tells Jason his children will live "like
vagabonds" in exile.
things that have happened to Medea, mentioning how Jason
Jason believes Medea exaggerates her past help. He suggests
shamelessly broke his oath to her.
he could injure her more by saying her love for him is from the
arrow of Eros and nothing more. Continuing the insults, Jason
Analysis
Even though Medea distorts her power by using it for evil, her
strength in a male-dominated time is appealing, and the Chorus
echoes her strength, softening it with reason.
One of the main themes in Medea is passion. While Medea's
murderous crimes are the most apparent, the crime that sets
her current plan in motion is emotional: Jason's betrayal and
desertion of her and their children for personal gain. Jason's
marriage to Medea is not a typical one because she is not
Greek. What's more, the gods have given the marriage their
says she is better off in Greece than in her "country of
barbarians." Jason claims he did not marry the princess out of
desire but to bring more status to his family. If he had told
Medea of this plan, things might have been different. Jason
calls women "idiotic" and says men would be better off if they
didn't need women to produce children.
As the two argue, the Chorus leader comments that, although
Jason has made some sound points, he should not have
betrayed his family. Jason tells Medea he is done arguing and
offers some money for her banishment if she wants it. Medea
refuses and tells him to leave.
approval. As a stranger in Greece with no family and friends of
her own, Medea needs Jason's support. She has earned that
support through her repeated aid in his endeavors—aid that
Analysis
called on her divine resources. Jason's disregard for her and
Jason presents himself unsympathetically in this encounter.
for the oath he has implicitly made through creating a family
His speech is demeaning to women, and his degrading words
with her calls for punishment. The Chorus says, "The honour in
flow easily. By saying that his marriage to a new woman is for
an oath has gone./... throughout wide Hellas/there's no shame
the benefit of Medea and their children, Jason shows his lack
any more." At the same time, Medea's excessive passion raises
of honor. It is not his infidelity that makes him a candidate for
some sympathy for Jason on the part of the audience, lending
revenge but his willingness to replace his long-standing oath to
moral complexity to the play.
Medea with a new oath to the princess. In contrast, Medea
continually comes back to the importance of commitment and
love, placing a greater value on them than on money and
status.
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Medea Study Guide
Scene Summaries 12
Jason also disparages Medea as an outsider. While he eagerly
body, and scattering the remains for their father to find. Later,
accepted her help in acquiring the Golden Fleece and escaping
again for Jason, she forced King Pelias's daughters to kill their
Colchis, he is quick to criticize her country as being uncivilized.
father. All these acts were rooted in her passionate love for
Of course, his views of non-Greeks were likely not much
Jason, and, as long as she was with him, she could bear her
different from those of the Athenians watching the play in
exile. But now he has left her to bear it alone—and he doesn't
ancient Greece. By making him come off as a status-seeking
even see this betrayal as important.
oath-breaker, Euripides may have been criticizing such views,
especially by pairing his unoriginal statements with Medea's
passionate words.
Episode 3
The idea of value threads through this episode. Medea speaks
to Zeus, wishing the god had given humans the ability to
assess the value of a man just as they do the value of gold.
Jason, once a hero, gives his opinion of Medea and women in
general openly, belittling their worth to society. He believes a
prosperous life means a link to royalty, while Medea scoffs at
this view. Status and wealth have value to Jason, but Medea
deems any offer of monetary compensation, even if it will
benefit her children, completely worthless. She says, "Gifts
from a worthless man are without value."
Summary
Medea's next visitor is Aegeus, who has just seen the oracle to
ask why he is unable to have children. The oracle has told him
to see a holy man in Corinth. Medea wishes Aegeus well. When
he asks why she is so pale, Medea tells him how Jason has
betrayed her by marrying the princess of Corinth. Aegeus is
appalled. Medea says she knows of medicines that can cure
his sterility and asks Aegeus, who is king of Athens, to provide
refuge for her and her sons. Aegeus agrees, saying he cannot
Stasimon 2
get her safely to Athens; but, if she and her children reach
Athens, he will give her sanctuary. Medea makes him promise
and swear by her grandfather Helios that he will accept her.
Summary
After Aegeus departs Medea works on the details of her plan.
First she will have to convince Jason of her acceptance of his
After Jason leaves the Chorus extols moderation in love in a
marriage. She will beg him to convince Creon to allow their
choral prayer to Aphrodite, goddess of love. It asks her not to
children to remain in Corinth. Then she will send her children to
strike them with passionate love driven by jealousy or desire
the princess with gifts—a gown and a golden tiara—to ask that
but to grant them moderation and peace in marriage. The
they be spared from banishment. The gifts, however, are
Chorus also prays to their homeland never to be exiled
poisoned and will kill anyone who puts them on or touches
because "there's no affliction worse than losing one's own
them. Medea also announces an additional act of revenge—the
land." Finally, the Chorus says it could never be friends with
murder of her sons—in order to eliminate "Jason's house
Jason because he shamed and was dishonest with his family.
completely." The Chorus leader pleads with Medea to
reconsider her sinister plot, pointing out that it is against the
Analysis
law and, worse still, will destroy her to have to kill her own
children. Medea says, "That's beside the point," and she sends
the Nurse to fetch Jason.
This choral pairing of the motifs of moderation in love and
desperation in exile brings Medea's suffering to the fore.
Medea suffers because she is passionate, not moderate, in her
Analysis
love for Jason. It is made worse because of the "affliction" of
exile. Committing crimes against her homeland when she
Aegeus's visit allows the audience to see Medea as a middle-
helped Jason acquire the Golden Fleece forced her to flee with
aged, experienced woman—an atypical avenger—who has
him. To ensure their escape, she committed even more
friends and cares for other people. With Aegeus, Medea is her
atrocious crimes—murdering her brother, chopping up his
most lucid and everyday self. She inquires sincerely after
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Medea Study Guide
Scene Summaries 13
Aegeus's welfare, and they chat as old friends would. The
perhaps Athens is actually the most suitable place for Medea
episode provides insight into another time in her life.
to find sanctuary.
In some ways this section is out of sync with the rest of the
play simply because of Medea's calm demeanor. Nevertheless,
it propels the plot forward because Medea uses her old
Episode 4
friendship to secure sanctuary after she commits her murders,
allowing her to move forward with her revenge plot.
Summary
Medea's speech in this episode displays her self-confidence,
striking a spirited, almost heroic tone. This strength contrasts
Jason returns and demands to know what Medea wants from
with Jason's weakness. Once the hero leading the Argonauts,
him. Medea begins by asking his forgiveness, saying she was
he now pales in comparison with Medea in terms of power,
foolish to be angry with him for seeking an advantageous
pride, and determination. Medea, as a character on an inner
marriage that will link their sons to royalty. She calls to the
journey, is coming into her own as a force of feminine power,
children to come and see their parents mending things. Medea
an avenger who is righting injustices. (Of course, her plan is not
cries holding the children, and the Chorus leader weeps, too,
out of keeping with her own prior history of familial murder.)
knowing what will come to pass. Jason tells his sons that they
will grow up to rule Corinth alongside their future brothers.
Medea weeps more. When Jason asks why Medea weeps, she
Stasimon 3
gives him an expected, pat response—that tears are the
normal response for women.
Summary
Medea says she will accept her own exile but asks Jason to
implore Creon not to exile the children. To gain the princess's
help in convincing her father, Medea says she wants to offer
In response to Medea's plot, the Chorus sings the praises of
the princess the crown and gown as gifts, explaining that they
Athens and asks Medea to consider how "this city of sacred
were passed down from her grandfather, the god Helios.
streams,/this land of strolling lovers" will react to the presence
Medea tells the children to deliver them and to make sure they
of a woman who has murdered her own children. It begs
place them only in the princess's hands.
Medea again to give up on her plan and show mercy to her
children.
Analysis
Analysis
Euripides uses two types of irony in this section: dramatic irony
and situational irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience or
The Chorus mentions Erechtheus, an early king of Athens. His
reader knows more about what will come to pass than the
"sons," the Athenians, are said to be blessed and living in a "city
characters do. Dramatic irony takes place in this portion of the
of sacred streams." The Chorus once again brings up the motif
play because the audience knows Medea's plan while Jason
of binding love with wisdom, which it believes Athenians do in
does not. Although the audience can infer what is behind
order to "foster all fine things." This motif contrasts with the
Medea's tears and words, he takes them at face value.
themes of betrayal and revenge, which result when passion
Euripides adds layers to the dramatic irony because, while the
overcomes wisdom. The Chorus foreshadows possible action
audience knows Medea's plot and Jason does not, they must
beyond the play, to the time when Medea makes her escape
still make guesses about her character development. Where is
and lands in this sacred country, bringing the memory of her
her inner journey at this point in the tragedy? Does she truly
rage and violent acts with her.
weep for the children? Or is she just acting like a devoted
In one of Euripides's lost plays, Erechtheus sacrificed his own
daughters to the god Apollo in order to win a battle with
another city-state. The chorus seems unaware of this, but
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mother releasing her children into another woman's arms?
After all, everyone involved in the scene knows that those arms
are the same ones that receive Jason into the princess's bed.
Medea Study Guide
Situational irony is where the opposite occurs from what is
expected. Jason expects that his efforts will bring unity
Scene Summaries 14
Episode 5
between his old and new houses, but he is terribly wrong. In
actuality, by having his sons present the poisoned gifts to the
princess of Corinth, he will be instrumental in bringing down
Summary
both houses. At this point in the play, Jason still cannot see his
role in the destruction of the royal house of Corinth and the
This episode includes the Tutor's dialogue with Medea, in
end of his own line.
which he recounts how the gifts were presented to and
received by the princess. When he declares that Medea's sons
Two symbols feature in this episode. First, the marriage
will not be banished, Medea weeps. Bewildered, the Tutor asks
house—the one broken by Jason's betrayal—is central to the
why Medea is not happy at the news, but she replies in vague
dialogue between Medea and Jason. It is significant that all of
generalities and finally ends the conversation by sending the
the action of the play and dialogue takes place outside the
Tutor into the house to oversee the normal routine with the
marriage house and that Medea calls the children outside to
children.
speak with their father. The children do not speak or even
react to the feigned reunion of their parents, and their silent
The second part of this episode is Medea's monologue with
presence in front of the broken marriage house casts an
the children present outside the house. Medea begins by
ominous shadow over coming events. The poisoned crown
describing the woes of exile she will endure while her children
symbolizes Jason's ill-fated thirst for royal status, which he
remain in Corinth. They listen, and when they smile at her, she
hopes to gain through his marriage to the princess. Medea
reconsiders her plan to murder them. But her resolve to
assures him that "among mortal men,/gold works more
complete her plan resurfaces. She tells the boys to go into the
wonders than a thousand words"—words that ring with
house, but they remain outside and listen to more of her
dramatic irony and foreshadow the death her gifts will bring.
monologue. Medea briefly wavers again but becomes
determined to spare her sons from dying at the hands of her
enemies. Instead, she says, the one who "gave them life, will kill
Stasimon 4
Summary
In this stasimon the choral ode focuses on the sorrow of the
coming tragedy, detailing the agony and destruction that will
ensue because of Medea's thirst for revenge.
them."
Analysis
Though Medea falters in her determination to kill the children,
in the end, she holds to her plan. She admits her
"judgment/can't check [her] anger." Her rage is an uncapped
force. She confesses that it controls her and explains, not
necessarily as a defens, but as a matter-of-fact statement
Analysis
about her decision, that anger "incites/the greatest evils
The use of the word slaughter twice to describe the imminent
Throughout her monologue Medea expresses her inner
murder of the children at their mother's hand evokes the
conflict, weeping and using rich, evocative language to
slaughter of lambs—the ruin of innocents, doubly cruel
describe her love for her sons. She dwells on how much she
because the one who brought them life brings death.
loves their hands and their mouths, the softness of their skin,
The Chorus uses metaphors to describe the coming
denouement, the resolution of the plot. The princess will be
tempted by the "ornament of twisted gold" and thus ensure
that "her marriage bed will lie among the dead." It laments the
end of Jason's foolish ignorance and is filled with sorrow when
it thinks of the children's murder.
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human beings do."
and the scent of their breath: "Give me your right hands,
children .../Let your mother kiss them. Oh, these hands—/how I
love them—and how I love these mouths,/faces .../.../O this soft
embrace! Their skin's so tender./My boys' breathing smells so
sweet to me." The audience can feel the extremity of her love,
so they can also imagine the agony of her choice as she
Medea Study Guide
Scene Summaries 15
follows her self-determined path of revenge. Her choice inverts
of women you might find one." Given that the role of the
nature. In order to commit child homicide, Medea must close
Chorus—which in Medea is made up of women—is to provide
herself off to the part of her that is maternal. She rejects the
wise counsel, these comments may be understood as verbal
path that includes a possible future with her children in Athens,
irony (saying the opposite of what one means).
a safe place she has secured no matter what her crimes. But
Medea crosses a point of no return on her inner journey: She
will not allow herself to retreat.
Episode 6
Stasimon 5
Summary
In the last episode of the play, Medea receives the news she
Summary
has been awaiting. A messenger arrives and relates in detail
what happened when Medea's boys brought her gifts to the
When Medea has disappeared into the house with her sons,
princess of Corinth. At first the princess was cold toward them,
the Chorus sings about the advantages of not having children.
but Jason prodded her to let them stay, and the gifts swayed
It argues that people without children are much happier and
her. When she first put on the crown and gown, she sashayed
are spared a tremendous amount of grief, such as having to
across the room, delighted with them. But then she went pale
provide for the children, worry about what sort of people they
and started frothing at the mouth. Finally, the crown began
will become, or bury a grown child.
dripping fire down her and she burned to death. King Creon
arrived, and, when he saw what was left of his child, he took
Analysis
her body in his arms, wishing he were dead as well. The poison
transferred itself to him, and he also died in agony. The
messenger warns Medea that her punishment is coming.
Euripides often contemplates the difficulties of having children.
He does this through Medea's words about the pain of
The Chorus leader comments that Jason is getting his due.
childbirth and complaints of the limits placed on women in
She feels compassion for the princess but also says that the
marriage, the bond meant to produce children. Here the
princess has paid "the price ... for marrying Jason."
Chorus goes further into this idea by discussing the griefs that
can afflict parents with children. These views, presented by the
female characters, counter the words of the male characters
such as Aegeus, Jason, and Creon. Aegeus has visited an
oracle in the hope of overcoming his sterility, Jason claims his
infidelity is for the betterment of his children, and Creon
Medea, in contrast, is delighted by the news. Still, she knows it
is inevitable that her sons will be put to death for their part in
the murders and believes it is better they die at the hand of
someone who loves them. She picks up a sword and goes into
the house to kill the children.
softens to Medea because of his devotion to his daughter.
Euripides does not hesitate to call attention to the complexities
involved in human reproduction.
Analysis
In Greek mythology the Muses were goddesses who inspired
Up until this point there has been much talk about Medea's
mortals in the areas of the arts and sciences. Their parents
plan, but in this scene that plan comes to fruition. The main
were Zeus and Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. The Chorus
action takes place offstage with the messenger relaying the
prefaces its argument against parenthood with a moment of
news. This type of exposition was often used in Greek tragedy
humor, claiming that, like men, women "have an artistic
and led to the later phrase "Don't shoot the messenger,"
Muse/who lives among [them] to teach [them] wisdom."
meaning "Don't blame the person who brings bad news." Thus,
Apparently agreeing with the attitude toward women
the messenger might expect to be received with hostility.
expressed by Jason, the Chorus admits that only very few
However, once again, Euripides inverts expectations because
women are actually able to learn from their Muse—"in a crowd
Medea welcomes the messenger's news about the horrific
deaths of the princess and King Creon.
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Medea Study Guide
Scene Summaries 16
Another type of inversion occurs as her delight is crushed by
Medea appears above the house in a winged chariot. With her
the bitter realization that she must kill the children immediately
are the bodies of their two sons. Jason hurls abuse at her,
if she is to save them from death at the hands of her enemies.
saying he must have been mad to take her onboard the Argos
when she had killed her own brother. Medea points out that
Stasimon 6
Zeus knows what she did for Jason and what Jason did to her.
Jason demands she give him his sons' bodies so that he can
bury them, but Medea refuses.
Summary
The Chorus begs the Earth and the Sun to keep Medea from
The two argue over who is to blame and who has committed
the more grievous sins, but the only mistake Jason will admit to
is ever having become involved with Medea.
carrying out the final act in her revenge. It warns of the wrath
He begs to hold the boys' bodies, but Medea refuses and flies
of the gods, who will "send down/onto the houses of the ones
off in the chariot.
who kill/sorrows to match their crimes." The recitation is
interrupted by the boys' cries from inside the house as they try
The Chorus ends the play by saying that the gods often
to avoid the sword. Outside the women of the Chorus are
confound men's plans and that that is what has happened
frantic but take no action. In anguish they tell the story of
here.
another woman, Ino, who was so distraught after killing her
children that she leapt into the sea to join them in death.
Analysis
Analysis
Medea's murder of her children completes her revenge. Her
inner journey complete, she is full of power and confidence.
The symbol of the broken marriage house is a potent one at
Jason, on the other hand, appears fragile and hurt. His earlier
the end of the play. The offstage cries that emanate from it,
composure, when he could spout off insults easily, has
which, at the start of the play, were Medea's cries of
cracked. He can no longer contain his passion. He rages just
anger—have been replaced by the cries of her sons as she
as Medea did at the beginning of the play. For once in the play,
stabs them in a betrayal of the natural maternal role.
Jason speaks from the heart. He shows he is not immune to
passion and feeling. (Of course, it could also be argued that
The modern reader might expect the Chorus to take action,
Jason's betrayal of Medea resulted from his inability to contain
but the audience of the time would have had no such
his passion for status and wealth.)
expectation. The Chorus's role was only to observe and
comment; it did not directly involve itself in the action of the
Nevertheless, Jason never admits his culpability. When Medea
play.
asks, "Do you think an insult to a woman/is something
insignificant?" he states blatantly, "Yes, I do." However, even if
he still does not recognize the harm he has done, Jason's last
Exodos
words show that Medea has succeeded in wounding him as
deeply as she intended: "I wish I'd never been a father/and had
to see you kill my children."
Summary
The Chorus's final lines warn others not to be as complacent
as Jason because things often do not turn out as expected.
Jason arrives, knocking on the door, cursing Medea for what
she has done to Creon and the princess and demanding his
children. The Chorus gives him the news that his sons are
dead. Although he demands that the enslaved people let him
into the house, the door remains bolted.
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Medea Study Guide
g Quotes
Quotes 17
In moments like these, when Jason spouts such matter-of-fact
insults to women in general and Medea in particular, it is easy
to understand and sympathize with Medea's rage.
"Why link your children with the
nasty things/their father's done?"
"If Aphrodite comes in smaller
doses,/no other god is so
— Nurse, Prologos
In the opening of the play, Euripides foreshadows Medea's
heinous acts. This quotation also expresses one of the central
desirable."
— Chorus, Stasimon 2
themes: revenge.
According to the Chorus, tempering passion brings peace
rather than the destruction of jealous passion. This quotation
"We women are the most
unfortunate."
— Medea, Episode 1
not only addresses the theme of passion, but it also refers to
the gods as unseen players pulling the strings in human lives.
"I'm ... dangerous/to enemies, but
well disposed to friends."
Medea often articulates the low position of women in society.
Here she speaks of the costs, both monetary and physical, of
being a wife, for a woman's father paid a dowry to her new
— Medea, Episode 3
husband. Through Medea's words Euripides accentuates how
women were treated much like enslaved people in Greek
In addition to her relationship with the Chorus, this quotation
society.
describes Medea's treatment of Aegeus, for whom she
expresses sincere concern even while using him to secure
sanctuary. At the same time, these words warn against her
"What country, what home will you
ever find/to save you from
misfortune?"
— Chorus Leader, Episode 1
The Chorus leader speaks of one of the play's themes: exile.
ruthlessness in dealing with those who cross her, such as
Creon, the princess, and Jason.
"I want to help you,/holding to the
standards of human law."
— Chorus Leader, Episode 3
The audience and characters feel the fragile position Medea is
in while on the brink of banishment.
The Chorus leader gives a voice to society and urges Medea to
abide within the law. She also tries to serve as Medea's
"With no female sex .../men would
be rid of all their troubles."
— Jason, Episode 2
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conscience.
"She gets these gifts,/which my
Medea Study Guide
grandfather Helios once gave/to
Symbols 18
that Medea will incur the wrath of the gods because she not
only killed her children but also spilled divine blood.
his descendants."
— Medea, Episode 4
l Symbols
Medea speaks to Jason here, telling him she is sending gifts to
the princess to soften her feelings toward the children. Her
words remind Jason and the audience of Medea's divine
Poisoned Crown
ancestry, which will later enable her to escape.
"I shall bring others to their
homes—alas."
The symbol of the crown can refer not only to the princess of
Corinth but also to Creon (her father, the king) and to Jason,
who was briefly king in his homeland of Iolcus. Medea has
flouted the authority of Corinth by speaking against the royal
crown and refusing exile. She then sends a poisoned golden
— Medea, Episode 5
crown, along with a poisoned robe, as a gift to soften the
princess's heart toward Medea's children. The princess doesn't
With the use of double entendre (using a word that can be
want to accept the gifts, but Jason urges her to. After the
understood in more than one way), Medea expresses two
princess arranges the "golden crown,/fixing it in her hair in the
meanings for the word home. While she will kill the children
bright mirror," she becomes as bright as the mirror by bursting
within their home, for the princess and Creon the word refers
into flame. Medea's jealousy, rage, and need for revenge have
to their graves.
transformed a symbol of authority into a weapon that destroys
the royal house. It is fitting that Jason is the one who
encourages the princess to accept the gifts, because his
"We mortals/must bear our bad
betrayal of Medea is the cause of his new bride's death.
times patiently."
— Tutor, Episode 5
Offstage Cries
Here the Tutor voices a Greek view of patience during
troubles, waiting out the plan the gods have for mortals. Medea
Medea and Jason's marriage house symbolizes their time
rejects this patience and moves things along on her own
together as husband and wife. Symbolically, all action and
timeline.
dialogue in Medea take place outside of the house. The play
starts with the Nurse commenting and then talking with the
Tutor about how the union between Medea and Jason is
"It's a fearful thing for men/to spill
broken, making them "enemies." During this opening Medea's
the blood of gods."
punctuate the tale of betrayal the Nurse is recounting. Medea's
offstage cries from within the marriage house can be heard to
cries draw the Chorus to her door, from which position it
— Chorus, Stasimon 6
serves as a moral conscience to Medea even though its advice
does not alter her plans.
Medea, who is a descendant of the god Helios, has killed the
Medea destroys the marriage house completely when she kills
children, who are also related to Helios. The Chorus speculates
her sons within its walls. One child cries from within, "Help me
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Medea Study Guide
... help," and other boy calls out, "What do I do? How can I
Themes 19
does not breed destruction.
escape/my mother's hands?" These cries symbolize the final
obliteration of the marriage. The door of the house is now
Love is not the only passion explored in the play. Jason is
closed, never to open again, just as Medea and Jason's
driven by his passion for glory and status. These were his
marriage has been irrevocably destroyed by his betrayal and
motives in setting off after the Golden Fleece, in seeking to
her revenge.
recapture his throne from his uncle, and, of course, in leaving
Medea to marry the princess.
Golden Chariot
Betrayal
The final scenes with Medea escaping in a winged golden
chariot bring awe and fear. Helios was the god in Greek
Part of the play's power comes from Euripedes's ability to
mythology that brought the sun up and down each day by
make the audience feel sympathy for Medea despite her
riding his golden chariot across the sky. Medea is the
monstrous actions. At the end of the play, she reminds Jason
granddaughter of Helios, and her use of his chariot symbolizes
of what she did for him in the past and how she has taken
her partial divinity and her female pride and strength. She
revenge for his betrayal. In abandoning her, Jason has not only
claims her victory when she rises beyond Jason's reach and
dishonored her, because a divorced woman is not respected,
says to him, "You'll never/have me in your grasp, not in this
but also deprived her of an identity. She betrayed her own city-
chariot." While she escapes punishment in her chariot, her
state for him and in exile will be dependent on the help of King
flight also reinforces her portrayal as an outsider who is not
Aegeus. His lack of shame and his refusal to credit the help
entirely human.
she gave him are further instances of betrayal.
Medea also commits acts of betrayal and did so long before
the beginning of the play. She killed her brother and betrayed
m Themes
her father to help Jason, and she manipulated the daughters of
Pelias into killing him. Betrayal breeds betrayal as she uses her
sons to deliver her deadly gifts to the princess and then kills
Passion
them to make Jason suffer.
Revenge
Medea's passion for Jason supersedes everything else, even
her motherly love for her sons. References to Aphrodite, the
goddess of love, support this theme. Jason speculates that
Medea only loved and helped him because Eros, Aphrodite's
son, shot her with an arrow. Medea herself admits that her
passion, in the form of anger over Jason's betrayal,
overwhelms her judgment.
Medea embodies the theme of revenge. From the beginning of
the play, she plots her revenge on Jason, laying out her plans in
monologues and in conversations with the Chorus. In dialogues
with Creon and Jason, she feigns understanding while
manipulating the men to participate in her revenge. Although
The Chorus frequently mentions that passionate love is not
she feels pain at the thought of killing the children and
desirable: "Love with too much passion/brings ... no fine
recognizes the crime as sacrilegious, her need to triumph over
reputation." The Chorus prays that Aphrodite not fill a "heart
Jason is greater than her motherly love.
with jealousy/or angry quarreling" but "bless peaceful
unions,/using wisdom." The Chorus insists that love without
passion but with moderation and wisdom is better because it
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After Medea kills her children and Jason arrives, he reminds
her of how she betrayed her family and claims the revenge he
Medea Study Guide
Glossary of Literary Terms and Devices 20
is suffering was actually meant for her. He says, "The avenging
married woman's lack of power. She does not ruminate on
fury meant for you/the gods have sent to me." Yet Medea
inconsequential topics, and she uses the princess's vanity and
escapes punishment for her crimes, while Jason is going to
interest in pretty things to exact her revenge.
have his "head smashed in," as Medea predicts. As Medea
says, the gods know who began the fight.
In the end Jason compares Medea to female monsters from
Greek mythology, calling her a "she-lion ... more bestial than
Scylla." Scylla is the six-headed female monster living opposite
Exile
the deadly whirlpool Charybdis in the Odyssey. She devours
any man who passes through her channel of water. Medea
dons these labels with pride, saying, "Call me lioness/or Scylla
... For I've made contact with your heart at last."
Exile is part of Medea's past, present, and future. By
Euripides's Chorus is also a group of women who offer wise
committing crimes against her family, Medea exiled herself
advice throughout the play, presenting another example of
from Colchis, her homeland. Later, she and Jason left his home
feminine power. The Chorus speaks to the theme when it says
of Iolcus to become exiles in Corinth. After Jason marries the
that women have their own "artistic Muse/who lives among us
princess of Corinth, Medea is threatened with exile by King
to teach us wisdom."
Creon.
The Athenian audience in ancient Greece would feel the fear of
exile with Medea. Ancient Greece was composed of city-states
that provided cultural identity, protection, and economic
security. Without this safety, those in exile had to fend for
themselves as individuals begging for entry and acceptance
b Glossary of Literary
Terms and Devices
that might or might not be granted. Even Jason commiserates
with Medea: "Exile brings with it all sorts of hardships."
Choral ode: an ode sung by the chorus in classical Greek
drama; an "ode" is a lyric poem with complex stanza forms.
As an exile, Medea is a foreigner to Jason and other Greeks in
Each stasimon in Medea is an ode that offers an emotional
Corinth. From the start Medea is cast as "other"—a stranger
response to the events of the preceding episode. The first
from a foreign land and an object of suspicion and mistrust in
ode (Stasimon 1) expresses the Chorus's recognition that
the eyes of the Greeks. Her "otherness" is exacerbated by her
Jason's betrayal of Medea has reversed the natural order of
divine ancestry and use of sorcery; she is not only not Greek,
things: "The waters in the sacred rivers/are flowing in
but she is not quite human. Jason believes he delivered her to
reverse./ ... /For now a stronger woman/rules in your
civilization by bringing her to Greece. He says to Medea: "you
household,/queen of Jason's marriage bed."
now live among the Greeks,/not in a country of barbarians."
Denouement: the resolution of the issues of a plot; the end
According to Jason, this alone should be enough to satisfy
of the action in a story. In Medea the denouement begins
Medea. Instead, his sanctimonious words infuriate Medea and
when Medea has heard that her plot against the princess
fuel her rage.
and Creon has succeeded. Now she must force herself to
kill her children before others capture and execute them: "I,
who gave them life,/will kill them. Arm yourself for this, my
Feminine Power
heart./Come, pick up the sword,/ ... /For this short day
forget they are your children/and mourn them later.
Although you kill them,/still you loved them." The resolution
ends as she leaves a shattered Jason behind and carries
Though her actions are deplorable, Medea embodies the
away the bodies of their children.
theme of feminine power. She tells the Chorus leader to let no
Deus ex machina: a plot device that introduces an
person "think that I'm a trivial woman,/a feeble one who sits
unexpected power or occurrence that saves the day. The
there passively." In her monologues she often bemoans a
term, which means "god from the machine," originated with
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Medea Study Guide
Suggested Reading 21
ancient Greek drama, in which a "god" would often swoop in
Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art.
at the end, having been hoisted by a crane (the "machine"),
Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997. Print.
to rescue the protagonist, just as Helios allows Medea to
use his winged chariot to escape Corinth.
Corrigan, Robert W. Classical Tragedy, Greek and Roman: Eight
Double entendre: a word or expression that might have
Plays in Authoritative Modern Translations Accompanied by
multiple senses, interpretations, or two different meanings.
Critical Essays. New York: Applause Theatre, 1990. Print.
Medea uses a double entendre when she says, "I shall bring
others to their homes," where home can refer to either a
dwelling place or the grave.
Euripides. Medea. Trans. Ian Johnston. Johnstonia. N.p. Web. 14
June 2016.
Irony, Dramatic: commonly found in plays, movies, and
Foley, Helene P. Female Acts in Greek Tragedy. Princeton:
some poetry, a plot device for creating situations where the
Princeton UP, 2002. Print.
audience knows more about the situations than the leading
characters do. An example of dramatic irony in Medea
Nardo, Don. Readings on Medea. San Diego: Greenhaven, 2001.
occurs at the end of the play when Jason arrives to take his
Print.
sons from Medea; even as he states his intentions, the
audience knows the boys are already dead.
Irony, Situational: an occurrence when the opposite of
what is expected happens. In Medea, when Jason expects
that by marrying the princess he will unite two royal houses,
it is situational irony that the opposite occurs. By betraying
Medea he sets in motion a series of events that will end in
the destruction of both houses.
Irony, Verbal: the use of words that denote the opposite of
what is actually meant. This occurs in Medea when the
Chorus admits that only very few women are actually able to
learn from their Muse—"in a crowd of women you might find
one"; this is ironic because the role of the Chorus—which in
Medea is made up of women—is to provide wise counsel.
Motif: a recurring element, such as an image, a sound, an
action, or a literary device, with symbolic significance, which
contributes to the development of the themes. A notable
motif in Medea is the heroic quest; this is mentioned, for
instance, whenever characters refer to Jason's quest for
the Golden Fleece and his efforts to retake the throne of
Iolcus from his traitorous uncle.
e Suggested Reading
Apollonius of Rhodes. Jason and the Golden Fleece (The
Argonautica). Trans. R.L. Hunter. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.
Print.
Burnett, Anne. "Medea and the Tragedy of Revenge." Classical
Philology 68.1 (1973): 1–24. Web. 14 June 2016.
Clauss, James Joseph, and Sarah Iles Johnston. Medea:
Copyright © 2018 Course Hero, Inc.
Segal, Erich. Euripides: A Collection of Critical Essays.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Print.
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