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Medea

Euripides

Lines 448-660

Lines 214-447

Lines 660-868

Summary

Jason emerges to rebuke Medea for publicly expressing her murderous intentions. While she grows more caustic, he remains in a balanced frame of mind and even presumes to sympathize with her. Immediately recoiling against his gestures of compassion, which Medea interprets as hypocritical "unmanliness" (line 466), she nevertheless uses the opportunity to tell Jason exactly how she feels. She begins by recounting how she helped Jason pass the tests her father had established for him to win the Golden Fleece. She continues by reciting the sacrifice she made in fleeing her father and homeland, as well as the role she played in King Pelias' death. Jason's betrayal after so much strikes her as the grossest offense possible; he has made their vows to each other, protected by Zeus, meaningless. She asks Jason where she could possibly go after he has deserted her--she cannot return home to the father and family she has abandoned, nor to any of the lands where she has made enemies through helping him. The chorus responds to her speech by commenting that the "fiercest anger" arises to fill the place of the "dearest love" (lines 520-521).

After pointing out that Medea's cleverness as a speaker will force him to respond with equally persuasive arguments, Jason denies his debt to her and claims that solely Aphrodite, the goddess of love, holds responsibility for his safe passage home from Colchis. Furthermore, Jason argues that Medea gained far more than she lost in fleeing her homeland; among her newfound privileges he includes residence in a civilized country and a fame that would have been impossible had she remained at the "ends of the earth" (line 541). Lastly, Jason defends his choice to remarry as the best decision for all parties involved, rather than a selfish whim. Marriage with a king's daughter will secure a better life for his children, and Medea, if she could see past her jealousy, would be thankful to him. The chorus lauds Jason's reasoning, but still finds that he remains unjustified in divorcing Medea.

Medea believes that all Jason's arguments stem from a need to rationalize a decision that he intuitively recognizes as wrong. He is unequivocally corrupt, yet successfully hides behind a mask of rhetorical eloquence. Jason continues to offer any help he can provide her--for example, he suggests writing letters of introduction to friends abroad who might be willing to accept Medea into their home. Interpreting these tokens of help as Jason's manner of alleviating his own guilt, Medea refuses his offers and sends him away to his new bride.

Offering a hymn that expresses a wish to remain untouched by Aphrodite's arrows, which afflict their targets with a devastating passion, the chorus preaches against recklessness of love. No goodness can come out of violent desires, only endless disputes. The choral song continues by reiterating that exile represents the worst of all possible fates, a judgment the women of Corinth have formed through the example of Medea's own plight. They end by cursing men who unlock the "secrets" of female desire and then "disown" it (lines 659-660).

Commentary

Jason's arguments with Medea introduce his total lack of backbone as a character; he is the consummate whiner, making excuses for himself and patronizing Medea with the absurd claim that their divorce was for her benefit. Though obviously fueled by her anger, Medea's criticisms of Jason provide a much more convincing account of his actions than his own half-baked self-defense. Rather than supply his character with depth, Jason's offers of help underscore his half-hearted approach to human relationships--he is always offering people the bare minimum, whatever he can manage without sacrificing his self-interest. The play will ultimately punish Jason severely for his flaws, and his opening appearance introduces the stubbornly narrow perspective that will remain unchanged. None of the eventual suffering Jason witnesses sparks a reconsideration of his own responsibility for the destruction of his entire household. On a thematic level, the confrontation of wills highlights how Medea's steadfastness displays elements of heroism (or at least distinction), whereas Jason's makes him a limited, unsympathetic character. Furthermore, the character more in possession of his own reason, Jason, nevertheless exhibits a blindness to truth lacking in Medea's incisive, emotionally-charged speech. Like most tragedians, Euripides was fond of these paradoxes, as they pointed to limits within conventional ways of understanding and the sources of much human error.

While Jason's arguments offer ample opportunities for criticism, it should be recognized that the average Athenian of Euripides' time would have agreed with many of his viewpoints. His claim that Medea ultimately benefited by leaving barbaric Asia conforms with ancient Athens' self-image as the cradle of civilization. Athens' defeat of Persia (see context), an Asian kingdom, was a source of deep pride for its citizens, as well as a hallmark of their identity. In defeating this foreign empire, Athenians felt they had weeded out primitive values from their own culture and established the foundation for a new, enlightened form of life. Furthermore, Jason's attention to public status, even at the expense of domestic responsibility, is typical of the city's burgeoning commercial class. If Euripides' tragedies often serve as reproofs to the assumptions of his audience, then Jason's character can be interpreted as an exaggerated version of their own inclinations and pretenses. Medea, a woman who honors the ways upheld by the old, now "foreign" gods, represents forces that the Athenians were increasingly overlooking. Jason's suffering at her hands displays some of the consequences of a self-assured civilization's blindness to the power of its repressed values. While the cultural resonance of Medea's characters will be explored more in the succeeding commentary, it should simply be recognized here that Jason's perspective bears more than a personal prejudice; his limits belong to his place and time as well.

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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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