Medea: A Civilized Barbarian
A Civilized Barbarian
The term "Barbarian" is Greek in origin. The Greeks originally levied it at any races who were not of a Greek origin; especially those who threatened Greek civilization and culture. Because most of these "strangers" regularly assaulted Greek cities, the term "barbarian" gradually evolved into a rude term: a person who was a sub-human, uncivilized, and regularly practiced the most vile and inhuman acts imaginable. It is obvious that a barbarian has not been considered as a member of society as well as a woman in Ancient Greece. In many Greek tragedies that we have read women either play a secondary role or absent at all. That is why it is so unusual to read a tragedy where woman is a main character and not only that – a woman is a foreigner, a barbarian.
Euripides’s "Medea" was created in a period of Peloponesian War. Each war, regardless of the century it occurred, not only destroyed and killed but also caused the reappraisal of the values in the society. Literature, in Ancient Greece, used to be a main reflection of what the society thinks what values and rules it has and what impact the war had on people’s minds. Obviously, the Peloponesian War has brought a lot of stress and chaos into the society, so during this time some poets have foreseen the intellectual revolution. Euripides, however, was the first one who created the play where he opposed a barbarian to someone "civilized"; he has his Medea confront Jason. The civilized Jason is more barbaric in his emotional callousness than the barbarian Medea, but by the end of the play she exacts a barbaric penalty.
The Nurse calls Medea a "strange woman." She is anything but typical. Euripides admits from the outset that this is a bizarre tale of an exceptional human being.
Lest she may sharpen a sword an thrust to the heart,
Stealing into the palace where the bed is made,
Or even kill the king and the new-wedded groom,
And thus bring a greater misfortune on herself.
Two great pains tear Medea: the betrayal of Jason and her betrayal of her country and family (and consequent exile). The two are interwoven and double her sorrow. Guilt, loneliness, rejection, love, all war within her.
Ah, I have suffered
What should be wept for bitterly. I hate you,
Children of a hateful mother. I curse you
And your father. Let the whole house crash.
Of course Medea is barbarian, she came from a different country, she is violent and everyone knows that she posses the unique and in somewhat supernatural power that can make people to do things her way. These characteristics correspond to the definition of barbarian in the Ancient Greece. On the other hand, we realize that the part of her power is her intellect, which is not barbarians’ own distinctive feature. People, including the king, are afraid of Medea.
I am afraid of you, - why should I dissemble it? -
I believe their fear is based not only on the fact that she has a great passion and able to do something terrible, but also on the fact that people start to realize that a barbarian is a human who can think, who has emotions and feelings and, moreover, who can take control over them. Another factor that scares people is her being a woman. In Ancient Greece women had not had a political power; their voices have never been heard. Medea’s voice is not only can be heard, but also her speeches are manipulative. She is able to use any rhetoric speech that appeals to the emotions of the people. Medea provokes a passion in them in response to her own.
You are a clever woman, versed in evil arts,
And are angry at having lost your husband’s love.
Medea is smart, she is greatly aware of being a "foreigner" and the Corinthians seem to echo that awareness; she understands why she is not welcomed in the society, she realizes that she has to leave, but her emotional pain makes her to do unthinkable.
Pain is often the source of anger and then violence. That progression is one of Euripides' main themes. "Great people's tempers are terrible." The greatness of the temper is one measure of the greatness of the person who is angry. Medea’s passion causes human tragedy. Medea also understands that her passion and anger is based on the betrayal. Jason did not keep his word, he has broken the oath and this was unacceptable for Medea. At the same time, she realizes that in the Greek society people are more materialistic and ideas of love and faithfulness are seem to be barbaric and silly.
Change your ideas of what you want, and show more sense.
Medea’s primitive passion is pitted against the civilized demands of a Jason. He is empty inside, he has no emotions, no passion; the only thing that he has is the desire. The desire to stabilize his political position. He used Medea for his own good: she helped him to escape and to survive. Right now it is the time for Jason to move on with his life; he doesn’t need Medea any more. Moreover, in some way he thinks he helped Medea and she should be thankful for that.
In so far as you helped me, you did well enough.
But on this question of saving me, I can prove
You have certainly got from me more than you gave.
Jason, as he thinks, lives by the law instead of "the sweet will of force". But what is the law? Who has it been written for? In Ancient Greece all the laws were written for the men, who used to have the political power. Jason is a perfect example of a representative of this society. He even admits, that women are the unnecessary creatures. They are needed only for producing children.
It would be better far for men
To have got their children in some other way, and women
Not to have existed. Then life would have been good .
Medea wants to make Jason suffer by making him listen, but for Jason her argument is invalid. I think Medea is trying to prove that the society, in which money and one’s political position are two things that matter, will not have any future. There are some other things, such as love, dedication and ability to keep your word, that are needed in the society for its success. In this sense Medea’s ideas are more civilized than Jason’s emotionless and a blind desire for a power. As I mentioned earlier, these Medea’s ideas are not valid in the Greek society, so she plays her barbaric game until the very end of the play. Lessons are learned and tables are turned. The oppressor cannot oppress forever.
Word Count: 1150
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