Skip over navigation

Medea

Euripides

Context

Table of Contents

Comprehensive Summary

Euripides lived during the Golden Age of Athens, the city where he was born and lived most of his years. Born in 484 BC, his infancy saw the repulsion of the Persian invasion, a military victory that secured Athens' political independence and eventual dominance over the Mediterranean world. His death in 406 came as Athens was surrendering its supremacy as a result of its protracted defeat to Sparta, its main rival, in the Peloponnesian War. Sandwiched between these two wars lies a creative period of political, economic, and cultural activity that spawned many of Western civilization's distinctive traits, including the flourishing of tragic drama. The art was mastered by Euripides' older contemporaries, Aeschylus and Sophocles, playwrights who created the dramatic tradition that he would amplify significantly.

Although he is reputed to have written 92 plays, of which 17 (more than any other Classical playwright) survive, Euripides' standing as a dramatist has often been disputed, especially during his lifetime. While Aristotle heralded him "the most tragic of poets," he also criticized Euripides' confused handling of plot and the less-than-heroic nature of his protagonists. Aristophanes, a comic dramatist, constantly mocked Euripides' tendency towards word-play and paradox. Euripides' role as a dramatic innovator, however, is unquestionable: the simplicity of his dialogue and its closeness to natural human speech patterns paved the way for dramatic realism, while the emotional vacillations in many of his works created our understanding of melodrama. Admired by Socrates and other philosophers, Euripides also distinguished himself as a free thinker; criticisms of traditional religion and defenses of oppressed groups (especially women and slaves) enter his plays with an explicitness unheard of before him. More than edifying pieces of art, works such as The Bacchae, Trojan Women, Iphigenia at Aulis, Alcetis, and Electra would become basic components of the Athenian citizen's political education.

As with most of the myths recounted in ancient Greek tragedy, the story-line of Euripides' Medea, originally produced in 431 BC, is derived from a collection of tales that circulated informally around him. His audience would have been familiar with its general parameters and many of its specifics. The play's merit consequently lies in its manner of exposition and its emotional focus, which Euripides places squarely in the flights of amoral passion that afflict the protagonist, Medea. Her infamous murders of her own children challenged the Athenian moral universe that continually hovers in the background of the play.

More Help

Previous Next
Comprehensive Summary Clarification

by kathy_clara, November 06, 2013

The comprehensive summary here says, "Seeing his daughter ravaged by the poison, Creon chooses to die by her side by dramatically embracing her and absorbing the poison himself," suggesting that Creon willingly committed suicide. However, the play itself says, "Everyone was afraid to touch the corpse. We had what had happened to teach us. But her poor father, still unaware of the calamity, suddenly came into the house and fell upon the corpse." True, Creon's lamentations suggest a willingness to die, but the text itself doesn't imply that hi

0 Comments

16 out of 16 people found this helpful

Dragon Chariot?

by erinc42, March 06, 2014

Medea does not flee in a dragon chariot, Jason arrives at her house (hoping to kill her for Murdering Creon and Creosa) just after she has killed the children, then she comes out to talk to him at first denying that she killed the children. She then tells servants to bring out the children, who are dead, and Jason is heartbroken. Medea then goes back into the house and Jason tries to follow her, but "collapses". At least that is the way I have read it, maybe there are multiple versions, I would check to be sure which way you are reading it.... Read more

2 Comments

4 out of 23 people found this helpful

Follow Us