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Medea | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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How does Euripides defy the common social view of enslaved people through his portrayal of the Nurse and the Tutor in the prologos of Medea?

As in society, in Ancient Greek theater enslaved people were viewed as flat characters doing the bidding of their masters. Euripides goes against this common characterization by voicing the thoughts of the enslaved people in Medea. From the start of the play, he shows the audience the independent thoughts of the Nurse and the Tutor, who openly speak their minds about their former master, Jason. Both consider Jason unfaithful and an enemy to the people he once loved. The Tutor says, "Jason is no friend of people in this house." The Nurse goes as far as to say, "My curse on him! ... a bad man/to his own family."

How does the Nurse in Medea introduce the theme of revenge in the prologos, or opening scene?

The Nurse gives the first expression of the revenge theme when she talks of Medea and Jason's past and of Jason's marriage to the princess. After recounting these events, she says she worries that Medea may be up to "new mischief" because she thinks "in extremes." The Nurse wonders if Medea will kill herself with a sword or sneak into Creon's house and murder him and the princess. While speaking about Medea's character and her penchant for getting back at those who do her wrong, the Nurse foreshadows the murders to come.

Without seeing Medea in the prologos, how does the audience get an image of her as a feminine power?

At the start of the play, the Nurse relates Medea's past adventures—how she saved Jason and helped him acquire the Golden Fleece, demonstrating resourcefulness and cleverness. Medea then fled her homeland and family to start anew with Jason. Women had a low position in Greek society, so the audience would have understood immediately that Medea's willingness to leave the protection of her father and become an exile from her homeland required boldness and strength. Thus, the Nurse portrays Medea as an embodiment of feminine power. All the while the audience can hear Medea's voice from inside the house (before she appears onstage), calling on Themis and Artemis for help, saying she hopes to see Jason and his new wife destroyed. She is lamenting her actions against her father and brother. Medea's words and attitude support the Nurse's portrayal of her.

What is the symbolic meaning of the "house's suffering" as mentioned by the Chorus leader in the parados of Medea?

The house symbolizes the marriage of Jason and Medea. Also, because ancient Greece was a patriarchal society, the "house" represents Jason and his bloodline—his children and any future children born to them, and so on. In the parados the most obvious suffering is Medea's cries over Jason's betrayal, which can be heard from within the marriage house. The reference to the "house's suffering" could also foreshadow the suffering that will afflict Jason as a result of Medea's murdering their two sons. The Chorus leader, as the ideal spectator, expresses the view of society by taking "no pleasure" in Medea's plan of revenge to obliterate Jason's "house" by killing their sons, his heirs.

In Episode 1 why does Medea enter the "public eye" and speak to the Chorus?

Medea hears the Chorus outside her door, and she does not want to appear to be ungrateful for their concern and presence, so she exits the house and greets them. The concept of the "public eye" is an expression she uses related to her feelings of being the "other," or a foreigner in Corinth. Medea says to the Chorus that people are not fair because they hate others on sight rather than getting to know them. It may be that Medea leaves the house and speaks to the Chorus not only out of custom and courtesy; she may also want to have a sounding board for her plan of revenge. Though she speaks openly with the Chorus about her plot, she rejects the Chorus's objections several times.

How does the confrontation between Medea and Creon in Episode 1 advance the plot?

Though Creon arrives declaring that Medea has been banished from Corinth because of her threats of revenge against Jason, Creon, and the princess, he is willing to show her mercy and allow her to stay one more day. He also fears stories of Medea's past and her reputation for using sorcery. A Greek king, he seems to adhere to the notion that Medea is a foreigner who is not to be trusted. This instinct is correct in this case, because his willingness to compromise is no match for Medea's powers of manipulation. Medea, in Episode 1, steers the dialogue with manipulative precision. She has already openly threatened the royal family and Jason, who show her temerity. Creon shows weakness, and Medea uses that and his love for his daughter to gain the upper hand. Preying upon his devotion as a father, she pretends to need only one day to seek refuge for herself and her sons in exile. Creon's willingness to negotiate and Medea's ability to manipulate take the plot one step closer to its tragic ending: the murders of Creon, his daughter, and Medea's children.

Discuss the significance of Medea's use of the concept work at the end of Episode 1: "Let the work,/this deadly business, start. ... So get to work."

Medea repeats the word work at the end of Episode 1. In the quotation she calls the work "this deadly business," so she is clearly referring to her plot of murderous revenge for Jason's betrayal. She speaks to herself in the second person, almost as a rallying cry to motivate herself to act. The final reference to work is in the context of talking about Sisyphus, who, according to Greek myths, is punished in Hades by having to continually push a heavy boulder uphill. When it reaches the top, it immediately rolls back down again. Medea juxtaposes this image of useless, perpetual work with her own work, in which she will make sure to succeed. Sisyphus was the founder and first king of Corinth, so Medea may also be using this image to belittle Creon, the current king.

What is the Chorus saying about the roles of men and women in Stasimon 1 of Medea?

The Chorus sings that Medea's plans are the reverse of the usual order of things. Despite being a woman, she is plotting to guide events in order to take revenge. According to the Chorus, it is men who form the traditional focal point of human history and the work of the ancient poets; women have been considered ineffectual and irrelevant. As females the Chorus wishes for a counter-history to tell more of women's lives. In the final two stanzas of the song, the Chorus gets specific about Medea's situation while continuing to comment on the roles of men and women in general. It points out that Medea has no "father's house" to go to and that another, "stronger woman" is now in charge of her household and "queen" of Jason's marriage bed. These references evoke thoughts of the ruling father who protects and the new queen who has usurped Medea's place of honor as wife, thus making marriage the main role for women and minimizing feminine power.

What can you infer about Jason's values based on his first speech to Medea at the start of Episode 2?

Jason does not value Medea or women in general, but he does value royalty. He says Medea is to blame for her exile because of her "stupid chatter." Though he is speaking specifically to Medea, it can be inferred that Jason feels this way about women in general. He says Medea's "silly rage" and her slander of the "royal house" have brought about her banishment. Jason believes that Medea is lucky that exile is her only punishment for speaking against the "ruler here." Even though he says he wants to help her in her banishment, he begins his speech with insults. This is another indication of his low opinion of women.

What are Medea's and Jason's great loves as revealed in Episode 2, and how do these great loves speak to the themes of Medea?

Medea says her love for Jason has been greater than her wisdom, which directly addresses the theme of passion. But her passionate love has been turned to jealousy and spite by Jason's betrayal, which wounds Medea so deeply that she is unable to reason and use wise judgment when making decisions. Therefore, the two themes of passion and betrayal resonate in those lines. Jason's great loves—status and power—also speak to the themes of passion and betrayal. Not only have they led him to betray Medea, but passionate love also surpasses his love of wisdom, leaving him vulnerable to being betrayed.

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