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Medea

Euripides

Lines 17-130

Lines 1-16

Lines 130-213

Summary

The nurse testifies to the degree of emotional shock Jason's "betrayal" has sparked in Medea: she refuses to eat and spends her days bed-ridden, pining away her fate, especially her newly-awakened sense of homelessness. The long journey that brought her to Corinth has now left her with nothing. Medea's bitterness grows to such a degree that she even despises the sight of her children. The nurse becomes afraid that some vicious plot is brewing in Medea's mind.

The boys, oblivious to the intrigue that surrounds them, exit the house with their tutor and end the nurse's meditations. The tutor shares the nurse's sympathy for Medea's plight, but also points out that the worst news has yet to reach her: there is a rumor circulating among men in the city that Creon plans to banish Medea and her children from Corinth.

Medea's first words are cries of helplessness issued from inside the house, off-stage. She wishes for her own death. The nurse fears the possible effects of this inflexible mood and sends the children inside to shelter them. In another off-stage cry, Medea curses her own children and their father, Jason, ultimately wishing the death and destruction of the entire household.

The nurse responds to Medea's anger in a soliloquy that expresses the incomprehensibility of Medea's wish to punish her own children for Jason's offense. She attributes part of Medea's stance to her queen-like mentality, which accustoms itself to issuing commands and never compromising its own will, even when it is consumed by a state of rage. Against these tendencies of the wealthy, the nurse preaches the virtues of a "middle way, neither great or mean" (line 126), which can supply the foundation for a peaceful and ordered life, unmarred by the conflicts now afflicting her master and mistress' home. The nurse's own status as a slave has availed her to the possibilities of this other, more humble life.

Commentary

After planting the crucial backdrop to the story, the play immediately introduces us to Medea's total despair upon being abandoned by Jason, offering in the process Euripides' fundamental psychological insight that victims of an intense emotional wound (Medea) not only turn against those who inflict it (Jason) but against their entire world of emotional attachments (her children). Euripides frames this insight in Medea's two opening cries: the first (lines 95-96) displays her suicidal helplessness, while the second (lines 110-114) expresses a wish/curse that every trace of her love for Jason be severed. By placing Medea off-stage, Euripides allows the audience to concentrate on her words and grasp them as a cipher to her whole character. When she eventually emerges in the flesh, the tenor of these initial remarks will cast a shadow over all her succeeding character development.

Against some interpretations of Medea, which claim she struggles between her devotion as a mother and her desire for revenge, we could infer from her first cries that her children's murder is fated from the beginning--the natural consequence of Medea's overwhelming emotional shock. The nurse ominously foreshadows that the "rage" stirring inside Medea will not "relax" until it has received an outlet, and the only real hope is that she can target an enemy rather than a friend (lines 94-95). Euripides' tragedies often present ordinary human beings under the sway of extraordinary forces that must be respected and understood, if not wholly accepted. While the nurse may preach the virtues of a "middle way," Medea's character testifies to the fact that such a cautious life remains unavailable to those preyed upon by fearsome impulses. The nurse interprets Medea's excesses as the product of a sense of royal entitlement, her queen-like need to command. It may be more correct, however, to view Media as a vehicle for something greater, as someone chosen by the gods (or the cosmos, for Euripides was often thought an atheist) to reveal inconvenient truths about human nature.

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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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