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Medea

Euripides

Lines 1002-1116

Lines 869-1001

Lines 1117-1231

Summary

The tutor returns with news that the children are "reprieved from banishment" (line 1002) and that Jason's bride has warmly accepted Medea's gifts. The children no longer have any enemies in the city. Recoiling in horror, Medea admonishes herself, "How Cruel! How Cruel!" (line 1009). The tutor fails to understand her negative reaction to his good, anxiously anticipated news. Each character speaks past the other at this point, because Medea's secret intentions make her words gloss over the true source of her distress--the horrible inevitability of her children's death. She claims to be upset over the imminent separation from her children, and the tutor advises her to bear her burden with strength, since many mothers suffer the loss of their children, and some even lose them forever.

Directly addressing her children, Medea protests against the farewell that she must soon offer them. All the experiences they have shared together as a family, including her bearing and rearing of them, will now come to nothing. The children, however, are unaffected by their mother's remorse and continue to play obliviously among themselves. In a speech to the chorus, Medea wavers repeatedly between abandoning and fortifying her decision to murder her children. Finally, she concludes, "Anger, the spring of all life's horror, masters my resolve" (line 1076), and decides to proceed with the murder.

After arguing that women are as capable of abstract reflection as men, the chorus sings a hymn about the "unnecessary" burdens children bring to human life. Parents suffer the constant anxieties of caring for and protecting them, as well providing them with an adequate inheritance. The possibility that death may snatch children away prematurely only compounds those other burdens. The energy parents expend on their children may prove ultimately fruitless.

Commentary

In her dialogue with the tutor, Medea amplifies the irony and complexity of her previous conversation with Jason. Her self-reproaches reveal the remorse she barely managed to hide earlier, and the anxieties she claims to feel over her imminent departure ring true at a deeper level (she is preparing for the definitive separation from her children in death). A tension suffuses the whole scene, as we sense Medea's desire to communicate the struggles of her conscience to her children; their silence and innocence seem to elicit a need for confession. The lack of understanding her children demonstrate parallels the lack of justification behind their deaths. The complicated discourses of the characters in Medea occasionally appear to be attaching a veneer of sense over the senseless, a process of self-deception to which the children, because they are silent, remain immune.

Medea's conflicting impulses, which have been enriching her recent conversations with ambiguities, achieve their fullest expression in the speech (lines 1041-1079) that concludes with her definitive resolution to murder her children. For the balance of the play, she will no longer question her decision. Consequently, this speech has often been seen as a definitive turning point in her thinking as a character. While it can be argued that her children's deaths are fated from the beginning (see commentary for lines 17-130), it nevertheless remains true that such a fate represents the triumph of perverse forces within human behavior. To reach the point of infanticide, basic human nature has to be transformed, ushering in conflict of some type. Consequently, Medea's motivational conflicts chart the course of natural sentiments warping to the point where something extraordinarily horrific can be accomplished. For example, Medea considers a natural, common sense course of action when she debates fleeing with her children to Athens, where they can renew their lives with guaranteed protection. Such a life would probably provide the most happiness out of the possible alternatives Medea contemplates, yet Medea's decision-making process has left behind debating over personal profit and loss. Her only loyalty is to her "anger" (1076), which has sprung out of her love and needs to vindicate itself through revenge. Abandoning her plan to punish Jason as severely as possible would be equivalent to denying the seriousness of her emotions and the offense they have suffered. Medea calls her forthcoming murders a "sacrifice" (line 1053), one offered for the sake of a higher principle than the logic of common sense can comprehend. Understanding Medea's extraordinary vindictiveness (a basic task for the reader or audience) begins with seeing it overstep the natural sentiments within her.

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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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