Medea

One of the main discussion topics of our class was whether or not Medea was just a homicidal maniac and whether or not Jason was a total jerkwad. After this class, I still maintain that they are both the heroes (and antagonists) in their own right.

Jason is not a horrible guy. Practically every hero in ancient Greece was proud, but that’s because they accomplished incredible things and were looked up to by almost everyone. Not to mention, Jason knew his wife was willing to kill random people just to secure power for him, as she proved with King Peleus and the whole cooked goat thing. Taking these two facts into consideration, it becomes less of a taboo that he should leave his wife and more of a safety precaution, protecting his reputation and his wellbeing. Medea is a loose cannon, and he just wants his and her future to be secure. So, he reasons, if the best way to do this is to separate, then so be it.

And yet, I also feel for Medea. I was biased coming into this play because the version of Medea’s myth that I knew (adapted by Rick Riordan, whose adaptation is biased as to better support his novel series) portrayed her as a completely evil witch with no remorse and not many likable qualities. And so, when I read her speeches about how hesitant she was to kill her sons, how she went back and forth whether she could escape with them to Athens or if it were better that they were dead, I saw a concerned mother battling with the wicked witch. For example:

Farewell my former plans. I’ll take
My children with me. To punish their father,
Must I hurt them too? Destroy myself?
I can’t. My former plans, farewell.

(Euripedes 36)

And then, on the same page,

Spare them. We’ll live in happiness,
Live in Athens. They’ll soothe my pain.

No! Spirits of vengeance,
Dark in the deeps of Hell,

Shall I leave them, my sons, toys for my enemies?

Medea is more than a witch. She is a mother, and also a cunning plotter, and these two sides of her grapple with the justification of her terrible plan. Her thirst for revenge against Jason, knowledge of politics and political enemies, and genuine sentiment conflict until she finally decides she must kill her sons if she means to truly hurt Jason and prevent their own deaths at the hands of her enemies.

And then, after reading the play, I read the introduction, which compared Medea not to a wicked witch or Lady Macbeth (who I had also found parallels with her), but as a “mermaid” type character, who left her home and family to live with humans, only to lose it all. (In the Disney version, Ariel doesn’t lose it all, but in Andersen’s original, she totally loses everything.) Trying to imagine Medea as a heroic, magical girl wronged by the human race is difficult to say the least, so to help me attempt it, I drew this:

WOW! Now you really feel bad for her! Poor mermaid princess Medea who doesn’t want to kill her kids but has to! (Okay, this is extreme, you’re probably not even thinking this, but pretend you are.) My point is, trying to imagine a literary character as different from your initial impression of them can change your understanding of their actions.

(You don’t have to imagine them as Disney characters, but that’s my go-to, because I am immature like that.)

(Regarding my illustration here, it ALSO makes you feel worse for poor princess Glauke, because I drew her as Lottie, and who doesn’t like Lottie? And making Jason look like Prince Eric also makes you feel for him, because Eric’s a nice guy.)

(Also, making Medea Ariel gave me too many easy jokes, so here’s a comic to end this post on a light note.)

Oh, Aigeus. At least the Aegean Sea is named after you.

Source: Medea

2 thoughts on “Medea

  1. Rebecca, you mentioned that you feel that both Madea and Jason are heroes in this play. In Greek theatre, the hero tends to have a tragic flaw. I think Medea’s is definitely her determination for revenge, but what do you think Jason’s is? I do not believe it is his infidelity. Medea may say his flaw would be his infidelity, but I don’t think Euripedes assigns him a flaw. What do you think?

    • I think Jason’s might be the belief that he is always right and that others will agree with him. (So, not just pride.) He comes up with logically sound ideas and expects Medea to agree with them, neglecting that her emotions can get in the way of his logic.

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