Academic Article of Your Choice

Sypniewski, Holly M., and Anne Macmaster. “Double Motivation and the Ambiguity of €”Ungodly Deeds”: Euripides’s Medea and Milton’s Samson Agonistes.” Milton Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 3, 2010, pp. 145–167., doi:10.1111/j.1094-348x.2010.00244.x.

In this article, 17th century author John Milton’s work Samson Agonistes is compared to Euripides’ Medea in that both contain heroes who break cultural expectations and commit heinous crimes possibly based on Divine Will. According to Sypniewski and Macmaster, Medea and Dalila are both fictionalized foreign wives who wedded cultural heroes, yet are more intelligent than the others in their play. Likewise, both Jason and Samson only speak up for the law when it benefits them, despite their seemingly-intelligent arguments. Later on, the roles switch, and Medea’s murder of her children is echoed in Samson’s murder of the Philistines. Because of these similarities, the authors believe Samson Agonistes was inspired by Medea.

Throughout the first half of the article, the authors stress how Euripides’ Medea and Milton’s Dalila differ from the stereotypical “barbarian” woman, who would be categorized by “deviousness and intellectual inferiority” (Sypniewski 148). Instead, in the case of Medea, “the audience, expecting an irrational witch, gets a shrewd rhetorician who exem- plifies the Greek ideals of reason and honor,” as shown in her speeches at the beginning condemning Jason for his infidelity and picking apart his flimsy excuses (Sypniewski 148). And then, Euripides turns the tables by giving the negative qualities normally associated with “women and foreigners” to Jason, since his reasoning for leaving his wife is quickly refuted by Medea as being sneaky, selfish, and faulty (Sypniewski 148). In both stories, the cultural expectations of gender and national identity are flipped.

In the second half of the article, Medea’s and Samson’s claims of divine support for their murders are called into question. There is plenty of evidence in Medea that support that she worked on her own accord, such as her tendency to get hung up on her pride and revenge. According to the article, she is so fearful of mockery from her enemies that she is willing to kill her own children to shield them and herself from it. However, Medea invokes the gods to support her in punishing Jason, and appears at the end like a “dea ex machina” in Helios’ chariot above the stage, as if she has the divine will on her side (Sypniewski 159). To put the authors’ assertion in other words, it’s almost as if Medea is the “acting goddess” of the play, since the presence of the other gods is conspicuously absent. Therefore, it is possible to argue that by allowing the crime to occur unpunished (and in fact rewarded, since Medea is the “dea ex machina” at the end), the gods are on Medea’s side and approve of her murdering her children.

Through all sixteen pages of this article, Euripides’ ambiguity in his Medea’s heroism, divine backing, and selfishness is thoroughly analyzed and paralleled in the characters of Milton’s Samson Agonistes. It is a complex read full of allusions to other works and critics and with plenty of notes and sources at the end.

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