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Medeas revenge

Medea, a play by the Greek playwright Euripides, explores the

Greek-barbarian dichotomy through the character of Medea, a princess

from the "barbarian", or non-Greek, land of Colchis. Throughout the

play, it becomes evident to the reader that Medea is no ordinary woman

by Greek standards. Central to the whole plot is Medea's barbarian

origins and how they are related to her actions. In this paper, I am

attempting to answer questions such as how Medea behaves like a female,

how she acts heroically from a male point of view, why she killed her

children, if she could have achieved her goal without killing them, if

the murder was motivated by her barbarian origins, and how she deals

with the pain of killing her children.

As an introduction to the play, the status of women in Greek society

should be briefly discussed. In general, women had very few rights. In

the eyes of men, the main purposes of women in Greek society were to do

housework such as cooking and cleaning, and bear children. They could

not vote, own property, or choose a husband, and had to be represented

by men in all legal proceedings. In some ways, these Greek women were

almost like slaves. There is a definite relationship between this

subordination of women and what transpires in the play. Jason decides

that he wants to divorce Medea and marry the princess of Corinth,

casting Medea aside as if they had never been married. This sort of

activity was acceptable by Greek standards, and shows the subordinate

status of the woman, who had no say in any matter like this.

Even though some of Medea's actions were not typical of the average

Greek woman, she still had attitudes and emotions common among women.

For instance, Medea speaks out against women's status in society,

proclaiming that they have no choice of whom to marry, and that a man

can rid themselves of a woman to get another whenever he wants, but a

woman always has to "keep [her] eyes on one alone." (231-247) Though it

is improbable that women went around openly saying things of this

nature, it is likely that this attitude was shared by most or all Greek

women. Later in the play, Medea debates with herself over whether or

not to kill her children: "Poor heart, let them go, have pity upon the

children." (1057). This shows Medea's motherly instincts in that she

cares about her children. She struggles to decide if she can accomplish

her goal of revenge against Jason without killing her children because

she cares for them and knows they had no part in what their father did.

Unfortunately, Medea's desire to exact revenge on Jason is greater than

her love for her children, and at the end of the play she kills them.

Medea was also a faithful wife to Jason. She talks about how she helped

Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, then helped him escape, even

killing her own brother. (476-483). The fact that she was willing to

betray her own family to be with Jason shows her loyalty to him.

Therefore, her anger at Jason over him divorcing her is understandable.

On the other hand, Medea shows some heroic qualities that were not

common among Greek women. For example, Medea is willing to kill her own

brother to be with Jason. In classical Greece, women and killing were

probably not commonly linked. When she kills her brother, she shows

that she is willing to do what is necessary to "get the job done", in

this case, to be with Jason. Secondly, she shows the courage to stand

up to Jason. She believes that she has been cheated and betrayed by

him. By planning ways to get back at him for cheating on her, she is

standing up for what she believes, which in this case is that she was

wronged by Jason, but in a larger sense, she is speaking out against the

inferior status of women, which effectively allows Jason to discard

Medea at will. Third, she shows that she is clever and resourceful.

Rather than use physical force to accomplish her plans, she uses her

mind instead: "it is best to...make away with them by poison."

(384-385) While physical strength can be considered a heroic quality,

cleverness can be as well. She does in fact poison the princess and the

king of Corinth; interestingly, however, she does not poison them

directly. "I will send the children with the bride...and if

she wears them upon her skin...she will die." (784-788) This shows her

cleverness because she is trying to keep from being linked to the crime,

though everyone is able to figure out that she was responsible anyway.

In a way, though, she is almost anti-heroic because she is not doing the

"dirty work" herself, which makes her appear somewhat cowardly.

Finally, there is the revenge factor. Many times heroes were out for

revenge against someone who did them or a friend wrong, and in this case

Medea is no exception, since she wants to have revenge against Jason for

divorcing her without just cause.

There are two main reasons why Medea decides to kill her children. The

first, and more obvious one, is that she feels that it is a perfect way

to complement the death of the princess in getting revenge on Jason.

When she tells the chorus of the plans to kill the children, they wonder

if she has the heart to kill her children, to which she replies, "[y]es,

for this is the best way to wound my husband." (817). This shows that

she believes that by killing her children, she will basically ruin

Jason's life, effectively getting her revenge. The second reason for

Medea killing her children has nothing to do with revenge. If she left

her children with Jason, they would be living in a society that would

look down upon them since they have partly barbarian origins. She did

not want her children to have to suffer through that. Also, if her

children are mocked for being outsiders, then this reflects badly on

Medea, and she said that she does not want to give her enemies any

reason to laugh at her. (781-782) Since she does not want to leave her

children with Jason, they really have no place else to where they could

go, being barbarians in a Greek city: "[m]y children, there is none who

can give them safety." (793) For these two reasons, Medea decides that

killing her children is the best way to accomplish her plan: getting

revenge and keeping her children away from Jason.

Whether or not Medea could have accomplished her goal without killing

her children is debatable. On one hand, if we look at Medea's objective

only as seeking revenge against Jason, then she could have accomplished

that without killing her children. Killing the princess, Jason's new

wife, would cause enough grief for Jason so that her goal would be

accomplished. We can infer that the death of Jason's wife would be more

damaging to him than the deaths of his children because Jason was going

to let Medea take the children with her into exile and did not try to

keep them for himself. Therefore, once the princess was dead, killing

the children, while it causes additional grief for Jason, really is not

necessary. Even though Medea does not seem to believe it, killing her

children probably causes more pain for her than Jason. She just does

not see it because she is so bent on revenge against Jason. On the

other hand, if we define Medea's objective in two parts, one being

revenge, and the other to keep the children away, then it is possible

that she had to kill her children. As for the revenge part, it was not

necessary that she kill her children for the reasons just discussed.

However, she may have needed to kill them to keep Jason from getting

them. If Jason decided he wanted his children, there is not much Medea

could do about it, other than kill them. Also, it is possible that she

did not want to take them with her into exile because they could make it

more difficult for her to reach Athens. For whatever the reason,

however, it is probable that she needed to kill her children to carry

out her plan, since she accomplished two different goals through their


The murder of Medea's children is certainly caused in part by her

barbarian origins. The main reason that Jason decides to divorce Medea

to marry the princess is that he will have a higher status and more

material wealth being married to the king's daughter. (553-554) In

other words, Jason believes that Medea's barbarian origins are a burden

to him, because there is a stigma attached to that. In his mind, having

the chance to be rich outweighs the love of a barbarian wife. Medea's

barbarian status is a burden to herself as well. Once separated from

Jason, she becomes an outsider with no place to go, because the

barbarians were not thought too highly of in Greek society. Had Medea

not been a barbarian, it is likely that Jason would not have divorced

her, and therefore, she would not have had to kill her children. But

since she is a barbarian, this sets in motion the events of the play,

and in her mind the best course of action is to kill her children. Just

because she is non-Greek does not necessarily mean that her way of

thinking would be different from the Greeks; in other words, her way of

thinking did not necessarily cause her to kill her children.

Medea deals with the pain that the deaths of her children cause her

quite well. She does this by convincing herself that her revenge

against her husband was worth the price of her children's death. When

asked about killing her children, she replies, "So it must be. No

compromise is possible." (819) This shows that she is bent on revenge,

and that she is justifying their deaths to get her revenge. However,

she does struggle with her decision to kill them. She is sad that she

must take their lives, but also tells herself that it is in their best

interests, as evidenced by what she says to her children: "I wish you

happiness, but not in this world." (1073) She does not seem to have a

problem with killing her children once it comes time to actually carry

out the act. But her motherly instincts will not allow her to totally

abandon her children after they are dead, as she decides to hold a

yearly feast and sacrifice at their burial site. (1383-1384) But in

the end, we can see that she dealt with the pain surprisingly well.

Two main themes are present in Medea: Medea's barbarian origins, and

her desire for revenge against Jason. Her barbarian status is really

what starts the actions of the play. It is what makes her a less

desirable wife to Jason than the princess, and causes him to leave her.

This then leads to her thoughts of revenge against Jason, and her

decision to kill her children as a way to exact that revenge. As far as

revenge goes, Medea is heroic in that she is standing up against an evil

done to her. Throughout most of the play, she spends her time plotting

her revenge against Jason, waiting until the right moment to unleash her

plan. She uses her cleverness to trick Jason and the others into

believing that she was not upset with him. In the end, we can see that

Medea's barbarian origins were a major factor in the play, and that

Medea was no ordinary woman in Greek terms.

Source: Essay UK -

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