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Medea | Study Guide


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Medea | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


Compare Medea's emotional intensity with Jason's in Episode 2.

Medea is very upset, her anger spilling out in every line. She shows her lack of control by going back to the beginning of their time together. She regrets any contact she ever had with him as well as the objectionable things she did to help him along the way. She deems men, especially Jason, worthless. In contrast, Jason uses calm, rational speech. His emotional distance from Medea and the situation is clear. While she goes back in time to recount all she has done to help him, he calmly dismisses those deeds. In this episode the audience can once again see passion alongside betrayal.

In Medea how does Jason rationalize marrying the princess of Corinth?

Jason explains that he has married the princess only to acquire greater status and security for his family. Through his marriage his sons will become the brothers of princes. Thus, in his mind, he has acted nobly, and Medea's anger is irrational. As for Creon's banishment of Medea and her children, Jason blames Medea because she spoke openly against the royal family. Jason's argument is that, if Medea would only be quiet about things, she and the boys could remain in Corinth. Earlier in the conversation, Jason also apportions some blame to Creon because of his "vicious temper," which Jason says he tried to assuage. Jason also tells Medea he is willing to provide for her and their sons in exile, but she refuses his offer. He says, "I call the gods to witness/I'm willing to help you and the children." Thus, if Medea and the children suffer hardship in exile, Jason will be guiltless; he can know that he tried to be caring and helpful but that Medea refused his offer. From Jason's point of view, he is the one person without guilt in the entire situation.

How does the Chorus address the themes of passion and exile in Stasimon 2 of Medea?

The ode contrasts the theme of passion with the wish for moderation. The Chorus says, "Erotic love with too much passion/... /brings nothing virtuous to men./But if Aphrodite comes in smaller doses,/no other god is so desirable." It goes on to pray to Aphrodite to spare the "poisoned" love arrows that incite passion, which may lead to infidelity or jealousy, and to offer love with moderation ("the gods' most beautiful gift"), which will be peaceful and calm, not tempestuous and spiteful. The theme of exile is addressed when the Chorus says, "I pray I never lack a city." This shows the importance of belonging to a city-state for the Ancient Greeks. The Chorus describes a life in exile as "hopeless" and "filled with misery and pain," calling the lack of a city-state the worst "affliction" and saying that death is more desirable. Finally, the Chorus ties these themes to Medea and Jason, pointing out that Medea is an exile "without a city" and with "no friends to pity" her. It blames Jason for making her misery worse by "sham[ing] his family."

Why does Aegeus seek out Medea in Episode 3?

Aegeus says that he has just visited the oracle at Delphi. There he sought information about why he and his wife cannot have children, and the oracle told him to see a physician. This brings him to Corinth and to Medea's door. He thinks she may be able to cure his sterility. In addition to wanting her help, Aegeus is also motivated to help Medea because he feels Jason has acted poorly by betraying Medea with the princess. His shock at Jason's behavior toward Medea motivates him to offer her sanctuary in Athens after her banishment.

What conditions does Aegeus impose on Medea for granting her sanctuary, and why?

Aegeus says that Medea must reach Athens, the city-state where he is king, without any aid from him. His reasoning is that he does not want to create any bad feelings between himself and Creon by protecting and helping someone whom Creon has exiled. Creating enmity with Creon could result in hard feelings between the two city-states, or even war, which Aegeus clearly wants to avoid. By binding Medea to these conditions for exile, he protects himself and the people of his city-state who rely on him. But he also puts Medea in a more vulnerable position.

Why do Medea's encounters with Aegeus and Creon influence her to murder her children?

The reader may infer that, after the encounter with Aegeus, Medea sees how important it is for a man to have children to carry on his line. Murdering Jason's children would destroy his "house." Similarly, after seeing Creon's devotion to his daughter and his softening toward Medea because of her sons, Medea realizes what a high value their children hold for men. Medea wants to wound Jason for the rest of his life, so she decides to attack Jason where he is most vulnerable—his love for his children and his pride in having sons who can carry on his house or bloodline.

Why does Medea make Aegeus swear by the gods that he will keep his promise of protection?

Medea tells Aegeus she wants him to swear so that he can't go back on his word if pressured by the two royal families who are her enemies: "The house of Pelias/dislikes me, and so does Creon's, too./... /If you ... don't swear by the gods,/you may ... comply/with their political demands. I'm weak,/and they have wealth, a king's resources." However, there is likely an unspoken reason as well: Aegeus is unaware of Medea's plans to take revenge on Jason for his betrayal through murder, including regicide and filicide. Fearing that, when Aegeus hears of the crimes she has committed, he, too, will banish her, Medea makes him take a binding oath. This way, even if her crimes turn Aegeus against her, he will still be forced to help her out of fear of divine retribution.

How does Medea explain and justify her plan to use her children to exact revenge?

Media decides to ask Jason to convince Creon not to exile the children. She does this not because she wants to leave them in a "hostile land surrounded by insulting enemies" but because they will unwittingly help her "kill the daughter of the king" by taking deadly presents to the princess—ostensibly in order to win their reprieve from exile. Medea does not dwell on the ethics of using the children to deliver the poisoned gifts to the princess, nor does she display any worry that they may touch the poisoned crown or gown themselves because, after all, she plans to kill them to devastate Jason and destroy his lineage: "He'll never see his children alive again,/the ones I bore him, nor have more children/with his new bride, for she's been marked to die/an agonizing death, poisoned by my drugs." This is the final, "sacrilegious" act she will carry out to fulfill her lust for vengeance. When challenged by the Chorus because her actions are illegal and, more importantly, will cause her great pain as a mother, Medea simply tells them she has "no choice." "It will be a mortal blow to Jason," and her own suffering is "beside the point."

How does the Chorus's language in Stasimon 3 of Medea express the themes of passion and betrayal?

The first part of the ode uses lulling, soft language and images, such as "flowing river," "temperate winds," and "sweet-smelling roses." This language expresses the theme of passion by evoking images of love and beauty; however, this passion is the one tamed by moderation and reason, where Aphrodite, the goddess of love, "send[s] Love to sit at Wisdom's side." Having described this paradisaical city of love, the Chorus asks, "How will this city of sacred streams,/ ... /welcome you—a murderess/who slaughtered her own children,/an unholy woman—among its people?" It goes on to express its horror at her plans in the second half of the stasimon, using harsher language and images, such as "butcher" and "children's blood." The Chorus also shows its concern for the pain her plans will cause her, calling up the image of her children as they "kneel before [her],/and implore [her] mercy." Through such word choice and images, it expresses the theme of betrayal by focusing on Medea's heinous plan, her horrible betrayal of her own children.

From Medea's behavior in Episode 4, what can you infer about her inner thoughts, emotions, and motivations?

Both Medea and Jason appear calm and conciliatory during this episode. Medea weeps periodically and misrepresents her thoughts and motivations. It is clear that she truly loves her sons, but her need for revenge supersedes her maternal love. Her emotions and behavior are complex: Even though she is in the midst of carrying out her plot for revenge, Medea is expressing her very real feelings of love for her children. Jason views women as wise only if they follow a logical course of action. If emotion governs their actions, he sees them as less than a woman of "good sense." Medea is playing to his idea of a sensible woman.

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