EURIPIDES: Medea

In the Medea, Euripides presents one of the most shocking female characters in literature. Though Lady Macbeth swears that she would have killed her own child, Medea gives life to those very words and murders her two sons. She performs this heinous deed to exact revenge upon her husband Jason, who abandoned her for another woman.

Medea’s desire for revenge is the primary force that drives the action of the play, and her hatred towards Jason is entirely understandable. She forsook her family, friends, and country for Jason, who repays her sacrifice by marrying another woman. The reader initially pities Medea’s plight, but soon grows uneasy when Medea begins to discuss her plans for revenge. She believes that killing her two sons is necessary because she wants to completely destroy Jason’s happiness. If the children lived, then Jason would still have some remaining comfort. Indeed, Jason wronged Medea, but nothing justifies her decision to kill her two sons.

The internal dialogue that Medea has before murdering her children is chilling. Part of her is unwilling to do the deed, but she overpowers these last dregs of her motherhood and convinces herself that she must fulfill her plan. Her hatred for Jason is more powerful than her love for her children. Euripides clearly argues that tragedy occurs when hate becomes greater than love.

“All men love themselves more than their neighbors.”

“The pride of rulers is something to fear – they often order men, but seldom listen. And when their tempers change it’s hard to bear. It’s better to get used to living life as an equal common person. Anyway, I don’t want a grand life for myself – just to grow old with some security. They say a moderate life’s the best of all, a far better choice for mortal men. Going for too much brings no benefits. And when gods get angry with some home, the more wealth it has, the more it is destroyed.”

“There’s no justice in the eyes of mortal me.”

“In other things a woman may be timid—in watching battles or seeing steel, but when she’s hurt in love, her marriage violated, there’s no heart more desperate for blood than hers.”

“Love’s a miserable thing for mortal men.”

“O Zeus, why did you give men certain ways to recognize false gold, when there’s no mark, no token on the human body, to indicate which men are worthless.”

“I’d sooner have great fame than houses filled with gold, or the power to sing sweet melodies, sweeter than all the songs of Orpheus.”

“Everyone avoids a friend once he is a pauper.”

“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.”

“May I never want a merely prosperous life, accepting pain or great wealth at the expense of happiness here in my heart.”

“I pray that moderation, the gods’ most beautiful gift, will always guide me.”

“Among mortal men, gold works more wonders than a thousand words.”

“As for human life, it is nothing but shadows. Among human beings, no one is happy. Wealth may flow in to produce a man luckier than another, but no man is ever happy, no one.”

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2 thoughts on “EURIPIDES: Medea”

  1. I first picked up a tattered copy of MEDEA at a busy train station in Munich of all places, when I was in middle school. I haven’t looked back.
    Euripides has a wonderful grasp of character, action and pacing, and the translations favor simpler language that still leaves a mark.

    Medea is one of the few women dealt with by Greek playwrights to ‘get away with it’ (even if ‘it’ is infanticide and regicide via magical cloak) and escape. Electra and Clytmnestra certainly were worse off than dear, completely homicidal Medea. Her wounds are emotional, rather than physical, even if she does make one of the best exits in classical literature (a chariot pulled by dragons inspires awe no matter the circumstances).
    I was delighted to find your blog and can’t wait to read more. Thank you so much!
    –Your friends at colors and character

    1. I agree – Medea’s exit is one of the most epic exits ever! It and Shakespeare’s “Exit, pursued by a bear” will never be surpassed.

      Thanks for your comment! I very much enjoy reading other’s interpretations of these books. I often find that I miss something interesting and important. Two heads are certainly better than one 🙂

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