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Medea

Euripides

Lines 1317-1419

Lines 1117-1231

Study Questions

Summary

The palace opens its doors, revealing Medea and the two dead children seated in a chariot drawn by dragons. Impatient, Medea advises Jason to say what he has to say and finish the ordeal--the chariot, provided by her grandfather, the Sun-god, will soon carry them away.

Jason curses himself for having ever wed himself to Medea. Jason believes he should have realized her capacity for evil and betrayal when she abandoned her family and homeland, even killing her own brother. He wishes only to be left alone now to mourn his tragic losses. Medea no longer feels the need to justify herself. She has wounded Jason, and that is enough. Jason points out that she has wounded herself in the process, and Medea, while acknowledging the pain her children's death has brought her, finds it a price worth paying to see Jason suffer.

Jason puts in one last request: to be allowed to see over the proper burial of his children. Medea denies him the right and decides she will bury them and expiate the crime herself. She then tells of her plans to flee to Athens with Aegeus, and finishes by divining an "unheroic death" (line 1388) for Jason, who will perish by being hit over the head with a log from his famous ship, the Argo. As Hyperion's chariot vanishes from sight, Jason laments this "grievous day" (line 1409) and calls on the gods to witness the affliction Medea has cast over his life. The chorus concludes by affirming that the gods work mysteriously and often bring events to a surprising end.

Commentary

Aside from rehashing Jason and Medea's previous arguments, the conclusion of the play provides the novel experience of watching Jason express himself without any condescension. Earlier he had painted himself as mature, high-minded, and capable of sympathizing with Medea's troubles, rather than following in her example of indulging in petty rage. With the murder of his children, he finally discards this facade of diplomacy and hurls sincerely-felt reprimands at Medea. He accuses her of an unthinkable savageness that has transformed her into the most detestable woman in the human race, a stain in the eyes of the gods. Medea does not deny his accusations and even encourages him to "loathe on!" (line 1376). From their first confrontation, she has often appeared less upset at the divorce itself than at Jason's complacent denial of any wrongdoing. While her murders do not elicit any repentance from Jason, they do dispel the delusion that he has been acting sensibly and working for a greater good. The pity he feels at his children's death opposes his earlier willingness to send them into exile, and the spontaneous quality of his present sentiments contrasts with the artifice of his initial reasoning, proving that he is not above the pull of passion. It would be an exaggeration, however, to consider this a significant character development. The play ends without him ever shouldering any of the blame for the murders; the only recognition he makes is of Medea's cruelty, which he had been completely underestimating previously.

Spoken by the chorus, the final lines of the play claim that the gods work mysteriously and that they have caused unforeseen events to transpire. The reference could simply be to the magical escape vessel that Hyperion has provided for Medea, but the elevated tone suggests a larger significance encapsulating the entirety of Medea's story. On one hand, the central events of the play can be explained without appealing to fate or other supernatural principles. Petty self-interest motivated Jason's divorce of Medea, and the intense anger she felt at being abandoned by him caused her to murder their children out of spite. Basic human psychology--an intelligible chain of moods and motivations--can explain these occurrences entirely. Yet the Greeks did not simply invoke their gods in lieu of natural explanations; rather, the gods attested to nature's ability to exceed ordinary human understanding and expectations. Medea's violent emotions are natural, but their forcefulness carries her beyond accustomed behavior and make her a testament to generally suppressed aspects of reality. In other words, the gods challenge humans to avoid receiving nature with complacence and to recognize its extraordinary, oft-ignored capabilities, many of the them fearsome and tragic. Euripides does not intend for Medea's murders to provoke a god-sanctioned sympathy for the violent excesses of nature, simply respect and understanding.

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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

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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

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