|Written by Euripides|
Mute Medea's two children
Place premiered Athens
Original language Ancient Greek
|Chorus Corinthian Women|
Date premiered 431 BC
First performance 431 BC
|Setting Before Medea's house in Corinth|
Characters Jason, Aegeus, Kreon, Nurse, Tutor, Messenger
Adaptations Medea (1969), Medea (1988)
Similar Euripides plays, Tragedies, Other plays
Euripides medea plot summary
Medea (Ancient Greek: Μήδεια, Mēdeia) is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Jason and Medea and first produced in 431 BC. The plot centers on the actions of Medea, a former princess of the "barbarian" kingdom of Colchis, and the wife of Jason; she finds her position in the Greek world threatened as Jason leaves her for a Greek princess of Corinth. Medea takes vengeance on Jason by killing Jason's new wife as well as her own children, after which she escapes to Athens to start a new life.
- Euripides medea plot summary
- Euripides medea summary and analysis
- Production and stylistic innovations
- Euripidean innovation and reaction
Considered shocking to Euripides' contemporaries, Medea and the suite of plays that it accompanied in the City Dionysia festival came last in the festival that year. Nonetheless the play remained part of the tragedic repertoire, and experienced renewed interest with the emergence of the feminist movement, because of its nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Medea's struggle to take charge of her own life in a male-dominated world. The play has remained the most frequently performed Greek tragedy through the 20th century.
Euripides medea summary and analysis
Production and stylistic innovations
Medea was first performed in 431 BC at the City Dionysia festival. Here every year three playwrights competed against each other, each writing a tetralogy of three tragedies and a satyr play (alongside Medea were Philoctetes, Dictys and the satyr play Theristai). In 431 the competition was among Euphorion (the son of famed playwright Aeschylus), Sophocles (Euripides' main rival) and Euripides. Euphorion won, and Euripides placed last.
The form of the play differs from many other Greek tragedies by its simplicity: All scenes involve only two actors, Medea and someone else. These encounters serve to highlight Medea's skill and determination in manipulating powerful male figures to achieve her own ends. The play is also the only Greek tragedy in which a kin-killer makes it unpunished to the end of the play, and the only one about child-killing in which the deed is performed in cold blood as opposed to in a state of temporary madness.
Medea is centered on a wife’s calculated desire for revenge against her unfaithful husband. The play is set in Corinth some time after Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, where he met Medea. The play begins with Medea raging at Jason for arranging to marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon (king of Corinth). The nurse, overhearing Medea’s grief, fears what she might do to herself or her children.
Creon, in anticipation of Medea’s wrath, arrives and reveals his plans to send her into exile. Medea pleads for one day’s delay and eventually Creon acquiesces. In the next scene Jason arrives to explain his rationale for his apparent betrayal. He explains that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to marry a royal princess, as Medea is only a barbarian woman, but hopes to someday join the two families and keep Medea as his mistress. Medea, and the chorus of Corinthian women, do not believe him. She reminds him that she left her own people for him ("I am the mother of your children. Whither can I fly, since all Greece hates the barbarian?"), and that she saved him and slew the dragon. Jason promises to support her after his new marriage, but Medea spurns him: "Marry the maid if thou wilt; perchance full soon thou mayst rue thy nuptials."
In the following scene Medea encounters Aegeus, King of Athens. He reveals to her that despite his marriage to his wife he is still without children. He visited the oracle who merely told him that he was instructed “not to unstop the wineskin’s neck.” Medea relays her current situation to him and begs for Aegeus to let her stay in Athens if she gives him drugs to end his infertility. Aegeus, unaware of Medea’s plans for revenge, agrees.
Medea then returns to plotting the murders of Glauce and Creon. She decides to poison some golden robes (a family heirloom and gift from the sun god Helios) and a coronet, in hopes that the bride will not be able to resist wearing them, and consequently be poisoned. Medea resolves to kill her own children as well, not because the children have done anything wrong, but because she feels it is the best way to hurt Jason. She calls for Jason once more and, in an elaborate ruse, apologizes to him for overreacting to his decision to marry Glauce. When Jason appears fully convinced that she regrets her actions, Medea begins to cry in mourning of her exile. She convinces Jason to allow her to give the robes to Glauce in hopes that Glauce might get Creon to lift the exile. Eventually Jason agrees and allows their children to deliver the poisoned robes as the gift-bearers.Forgive what I said in anger! I will yield to the decree, and only beg one favor, that my children may stay. They shall take to the princess a costly robe and a golden crown, and pray for her protection.
In the next scene a messenger recounts Glauce and Creon’s deaths. When the children arrived with the robes and coronet, Glauce gleefully put them on and went to find her father. Soon the poisons overtook Glauce and she fell to the floor, quickly dying. Creon clutched her tightly as he tried to save her and, by coming in contact with the robes and coronet, got poisoned and died as well.Alas! The bride had died in horrible agony; for no sooner had she put on Medea's gifts than a devouring poison consumed her limbs as with fire, and in his endeavor to save his daughter the old father died too.
While Medea is content with her current success she decides to take it one step forward. Since Jason brought shame upon her for trying to start a new family, Medea resolves to destroy the family he was willing to give up by killing their sons. Medea does have a moment of hesitation when she considers the pain that her children’s deaths will put her through. However, she steels her resolve to cause Jason the most pain possible and rushes offstage with a knife to kill her children. As the chorus laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. Jason then rushes onto the scene to confront Medea about murdering Creon and Glauce and he quickly discovers that his children have been killed as well. Medea then appears above the stage with the bodies of her children in the chariot of the sun god Helios. When this play was put on, this scene was accomplished using the mechane device usually reserved for the appearance of a god or goddess. She confronts Jason, reveling in his pain at being unable to ever hold his children again:"I do not leave my children's bodies with thee; I take them with me that I may bury them in Hera's precinct. And for thee, who didst me all that evil, I prophesy an evil doom."
She escapes to Athens with the bodies. The chorus is left contemplating the will of Zeus in Medea's actions:Manifold are thy shapings, Providence! Many a hopeless matter gods arrange. What we expected never came to pass, What we did not expect the gods brought to bear; So have things gone, this whole experience through!
Euripides' characterization of Medea exhibits the inner emotions of passion, love, and vengeance. Medea is widely read as a proto-feminist text to the extent that it sympathetically explores the disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society, although it has also been read as an expression of misogynist attitudes. In conflict with this sympathetic undertone (or reinforcing a more negative reading) is Medea's barbarian identity, which would antagonize a 5th-century Greek audience.
Euripidean innovation and reaction
While Medea is considered one of the great plays of the Western canon, the Athenian audience did not react so favorably, and it placed third out of the three competing plays at the Dionysia festival of 431 BC. A possible explanation is found in a scholium to line 264 of the play, which asserts that Medea's children were traditionally killed by the Corinthians after her escape; Euripides' apparent invention of Medea's filicide might have offended its audience just as his first treatment of the Hippolytus myth did. That Euripides and others took liberties with Medea's story may be inferred from the 1st century BC historian Diodorus Siculus: "Speaking generally, it is because of the desire of the tragic poets for the marvellous that so varied and inconsistent an account of Medea has been given out."
In the 4th century BC, South-Italian vase painting offers a number of Medea-representations that are connected to Euripides' play — the most famous is a krater in Munich. However, these representations always differ considerably from the plots of the play or are too general to support any direct link to the play of Euripides – this might reflect the judgement on the play. However, the violent and powerful character of princess Medea, and her double nature — both loving and destructive — became a standard for the later periods of antiquity and seems to have inspired numerous adaptations.
With the rediscovery of the text in 1st-century Rome (the play was adapted by the tragedians Ennius, Lucius Accius, Ovid, Seneca the Younger and Hosidius Geta, among others), again in 16th-century Europe, and in the light of 20th century modern literary criticism, Medea has provoked differing reactions from differing critics and writers who have sought to interpret the reactions of their societies in the light of past generic assumptions, bringing a fresh interpretation to its universal themes of revenge and justice in an unjust society.