Medea | Study Guide


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Medea | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


What view of the gods is presented by the Chorus in Stasimon 5 of Medea?

The Chorus mentions the Muse who guides it in wisdom, which is highly valued by the Chorus and by Greek society in general. It is this wisdom, the Chorus says, that it will now impart. Then, it speaks of the gods in general, arguing that being without children is a happier, easier state, partly because of the gods' control of human lives. For instance, because the gods control Fate, even if parents rear their child to grow up well, the gods may determine the child's Fate is to die young: "the gods inflict on mortal men/... this most painful further sorrow."

What is Medea's mood at the start of Episode 6, when she awaits news of what has happened to the princess?

Medea's mood is one of nervous anticipation in this episode. She says she has been waiting "in suspense" for news of what happened after the princess received the poisoned crown and gown. She wonders if her plan has worked. When she witnesses the coming of the messenger, Medea seems to be filled with sick anticipation to hear "news of some fresh catastrophe." She is happy when she hears that the princess and Creon are dead, but this also means she has to execute the difficult part of her plan: killing her children.

Explain why Medea's reaction to the messenger's news in Episode 6 is situational irony.

Situational irony is when the opposite happens from what is intended or expected. When the messenger arrives at Medea's house to report the deaths, he expects that she will be ready and willing to flee immediately. He does not expect that she will be happy when she hears the news, but Medea says, "What really splendid news you bring." The messenger thinks Medea will be afraid for her life because she has killed royalty, but instead she wants to relish the news of their deaths. She says, "If you report/they died in pain, you'll double my rejoicing."

In Medea what does the messenger's story suggest about the princess's feelings toward the children?

The messenger's story suggests that the princess would be unkind to Medea's children if they were left in her care. The messenger says that, when the children arrived, the princess "wanted to fix her eyes on Jason only." By the way she turned her cheek, the messenger gathered she was "disgusted that they'd come." The only thing that stopped her behavior was the sight of the glorious gifts (the poisoned crown and gown) the children had brought her. Apparently, it was only because of the gifts that she agreed to allow the children to remain in Corinth. This shows that the princess is more interested in material wealth and beauty than in her new husband's children, whom he sired with another woman. It is likely that the princess only pretended to like or accept the children and would later revert to her original dislike of them.

What happened when the princess put on the poisoned gifts, and how does the scene relate to the themes of Medea?

According to the messenger, the princess at first enjoyed the poisoned crown and gown and admired how they looked on her. But festivity quickly turned to horror as the poison took hold, causing her to froth at the mouth and collapse. The messenger reports that an older servant initially believed the princess to be having a "fit/inspired by Pan or some other god." Because the god Pan is the god of the wild, nature, and the music of nature, this idea is still in line with festivity. It did not take the servant long to realize the gods were not inspiring the princess's condition because there was "white spit foaming in her mouth, her eyes/bulging from their sockets." Three of Medea's main themes come together in this episode, in which Medea exerts her feminine power from a distance by exacting revenge for Jason's betrayal. These three themes are focused through the lens of the poisoned crown, which symbolizes Medea's destruction of Jason's marriage and of the royal house of Corinth.

How do the messenger's words to Medea in Episode 6 address the motif of wisdom versus passion?

The messenger is a sensible man attached to Jason's household. Since Jason's marriage, he points out, the princess is now his "mistress," but it's clear that his emotional attachment is still to Medea and her sons: He relates that he and the other servants were "glad,/... /that you and your husband's previous quarrel/was now over." He speaks to Medea almost as a brother might, with disapproval and concern, making clear that he finds her vengeful, passionate actions foolish and advising her to flee. When she is pleased with his news, he incredulously asks, "Are you in your right mind, lady, or insane?" He clearly believes that Medea's passion has overcome her wisdom. The messenger also comments on people of the higher classes in general by saying, "Those mortals/who seem wise, ... /are guilty of the greatest foolishness." Medea is in a position to have servants and may "seem wise" to those servants, but she does not temper her thoughts, words, or deeds with reason. It is likely the messenger would extend his comments to include Jason, the princess, and even Creon, considering their thoughtless actions prompted Medea's revenge.

How does the Chorus leader's response to the messenger's monologue in Episode 6 of Medea address the idea of justice?

The idea of justice can be seen in the Chorus leader's reference to the control of the gods. She says that Jason is being rightly punished for his betrayal: "the god tightens troubles around Jason,/and justly so." Although she feels sorry for the princess—"O poor Creon's daughter,/how we pity your misfortune"—in the next breath she says that the princess is now with Hades, the god of the Underworld, and that this is "the price you pay/for marrying Jason." Thus, both Jason and his new bride are suffering the consequences of their actions.

How might the Greek audience have responded to Medea's words before she goes into the house to kill her sons?

The Greek audience may have anticipated a change of heart from Medea, expecting her, as the Chorus did, to have difficulty killing her sons. Even as she prepares to go in and kill the children, Medea could have stopped what she was doing and just gone into exile in Athens. She could perhaps have even taken the children with her. Alternatively, the audience may have been satisfied with her decision because it expected the completion of Medea's revenge and the fulfillment of her promises. This display of power from a woman might also have surprised members of a patriarchal society.

In Medea to what extent do the characters' actions challenge or confirm their assumptions about the meaning of being Greek versus "barbarian"?

When Jason and Medea arrive in Corinth, both are exiles. Neither is Corinthian, so both may be considered "other." But Jason is Greek and therefore able to fit in. As a prince of Iolcus, he is considered noble and accepted into the royal family. For Medea the situation is very different. Although a princess by birth, Medea is non-Greek, a barbarian, and has no claim on Jason or any right to remain in Corinth. Jason taunts her with this in their first conversation: "you now live among the Greeks,/not in a country of barbarians." He characterizes her homeland as lawless and uncivilized, saying that in Greece she's "familiar with justice and the laws, rather than brute force." Medea is also "other" because she's descended from the gods, uses magic, and murders her own children. Knowing her past, Creon exiles her. The Chorus leader worries, "What country, what home will you ever find/to save you from misfortune?" Later the Chorus points out that killing her sons will only serve to worsen her exile: "How will [Athens]/welcome you—a murderess/who slaughtered her own children ... ?" Jason blames Medea's unnatural deed on her barbarian roots: "No woman from Greece would dare/to do this."

How does the Chorus react when Medea takes her sons into the house to kill them?

The Chorus first asks the Earth and Sun to intercede and keep Medea from carrying out her vengeful plan of killing the children. It reminds the Sun—the god Helios—that these boys are his descendants and that "it's a fearful thing for men/to spill the blood of gods." The Chorus then addresses the king of the gods, Zeus, and asks that he stop Medea, almost as if it wanted him to strike her dead: "take from the house/this blood-thirsty savage Fury/gripped by the spirit of revenge." Although the Chorus condemns her act of revenge, it makes no move to stop Medea. The boys' cries can be heard from inside the house, begging for help. Despite their distress the Chorus does nothing. It stands by and allows the final destruction of Medea's marriage and Jason's bloodline. Even now the Chorus feels sorry for Medea—"you unhappy woman,/why does your anger/fall so heavily upon your heart"—but nevertheless sees a certain justice in her suffering: "For the gods send down/onto the houses of the ones who kill/sorrows to match their crimes."

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