Medea | Study Guide


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Medea | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Episode 6 what does Medea's monologue express about her character?

At this point in the play, Medea no longer has a choice; she knows that, if she does not kill her sons, the state will. Still, she can hardly force herself to do it: "Why do I put off doing this dreadful act,/since it must be done? Come, pick up the sword,/wretched hand of mine. .../move to where your life of misery begins./... forget they are your children/and mourn them later." Earlier in the play, when Medea spoke of her plan to kill the children, it was linked with revenge on Jason. But now she doesn't mention him at all. In this monologue there's also no mention of revenge, just the agony of a mother about to lose her children. Perhaps surprisingly, Medea doesn't consider taking the boys with her when she flees to Athens. Her passionate emotions seem to have blinded her to other options, trapping her in her revenge plot.

Discuss how the children's few words in Medea show the nature of their situation.

Even though the children say few words, the ones they do say are powerful and show how trapped and powerless they feel. One child asks about "escape" from Medea's hands. They scream for help and beg the gods to stop their mother, but their cries go unanswered. We can only imagine their feelings of powerlessness when the second child announces that the sword is coming for them. Finally, the simile "like a snare" illuminates the situation, conveying the image of the trap shutting on the boys as they are murdered by their own mother. The cries of the children show they are connected as brothers in life as they will be in death. The first child asks, "What do I do?" But the other answers, "I don't know, dear brother./It's over for us." Once again the use of "dear brother" shows their closeness, which makes their deaths that much more painful for the audience.

In Medea why doesn't the Chorus go into the house to stop the murder of the children?

The Chorus is a representation of society, and its hesitation could represent how society allows crimes to happen without stepping in to stop them. Also, the Chorus may view the murder as Fate because the gods themselves have not interfered. While Medea kills her sons, the Chorus stands outside of the house hearing the cries from within and says, "Should I go in the house?/I'm sure I must prevent this murder." Despite this momentary conflict on what to do, the Chorus remains outside and does not intervene; after all, children are the property of their parents, and it is the parents' right to do with them as they see fit. Of course, in Ancient Greek drama, although the chorus might be considered an actor, it often primarily comments, informs, interprets, or persuades but doesn't have a greater level of active agency.

What is the significance of the mention of Ino by the Chorus in Stasimon 6 of Medea?

Ino is mentioned as another example from Greek mythology of a mother who kills her children. This story is linked directly to the actions of the gods, which is different from the ambiguity of divine intervention in Medea's life. The Chorus says Ino was "driven to madness by the gods" and killed her children. She then jumped into the sea to be with them. The significance is not only that it is another story of filicide—an act the Greeks and most cultures believe to be taboo or "unholy"—but that it stands in contrast to Medea's situation. Medea has murdered out of revenge, not insanity like Ino. It brings questions to the surface about what will happen to Medea after these crimes. Is the Chorus suggesting that Medea might commit suicide to escape the pain she will suffer after killing her children?

In the Exodos of Medea, what does the marriage house symbolize?

Jason arrives and is unaware that Medea has murdered their sons. He knocks on the outside of the door of the marriage house, but it does not open, which symbolizes his exclusion from it. The Chorus members, who are Corinthian citizens, tell Jason the horrific news. Jason shakes his fist and yells at the locked doors of the house, but he remains shut out. Then Medea rises above the house in her golden chariot with the dead bodies of their boys. Looming over the inaccessible marriage house, Medea displays her feminine power, moving above and beyond her life with Jason.

In the Exodos how is the theme of feminine power expressed through Medea's actions and words?

Medea's words express the theme of feminine power. She accepts Jason's comparisons to Scylla, the six-headed monster from the Odyssey, and to a she-lion, taking these names with relish as a tribute to feminine power. She coolly responds to Jason's raging sorrow with quick retorts such as "Well, your sons are gone./That should cause you pain." Medea's actions also reflect the theme of feminine power. She stays inside, not responding to Jason's shouts and knocks until she is ready to rise above the house in her divine chariot. By placing herself above the house and Jason, Medea takes a position of power. She shows power, too, by denying Jason his wish to give the children a proper Greek burial. Finally, the act of flying away in a chariot given to her by a god displays her power.

What does Medea plan to do with the bodies of her sons?

Medea says she plans to bury the children with her "own hands." She plans to take them to "Hera's sacred lands" so that none of her enemies will destroy their graves. It is noteworthy that Hera is the wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage. Medea may want to link herself to this goddess for protection because Jason betrayed her by breaking his marriage vow. Medea says she will have "mystic rites" at the sites of their burials to atone "for this profane murder." Whether or not that will appease the gods, it shows Medea's concern for keeping the children from harm after their death.

How are Medea's magical abilities displayed through her words and actions?

At the beginning of the play, the Chorus tells the audience about Medea's former sorcery, which helped Jason in his adventures with the Argonauts and in reclaiming his father's throne. At the end of the play, Medea displays her magical abilities by traveling in Helios's flying golden chariot. She says she plans to take her children "to Hera's sacred lands/in Acraia," where their graves cannot be defiled and where she will use "mystic rites" to atone for her sins. Medea also foretells the future for Jason: she says his head will be "smashed in" by a "mouldy relic of [his] ship the Argo."

What is the role of situational irony in the Exodus in Medea?

Situational irony plays a significant role in the Exodos because every one of Jason's expectations is turned on its head. First, Jason arrives at the marriage house, expecting to find his sons alive and to protect them from punishment, but the opposite occurs. The Chorus informs him that Medea has killed them. He then says he will take revenge, but he will never get the chance. Instead, he'll learn that he has been the victim of Medea's revenge. Jason also arrives expecting that, even if Medea has already fled, she will be caught and punished by what is left of the royal house in Corinth: "She'll have to ... fly up to heaven's overarching vault,/if she's going to avoid her punishment." It never occurs to Jason that Medea has done exactly that: she confronts him from the golden chariot and escapes to safety, taking with her the bodies of his children. In general, Jason's life has not turned out as he anticipated it would when he married the princess.

Is Jason sympathetic in the Exodos in Medea? Why or why not?

Jason may be considered sympathetic because he has come to protect the children from harm and he acts grief-stricken when he learns that Medea has killed the boys. When Medea denies his requests to bury his sons and touch their bodies one more time, he also elicits sympathy. However, it could be said that his continuing refusal to admit any guilt on his own part for his betrayal of Medea (which he considers "insignificant") and his continuing disdainful treatment of her make him unsympathetic. The Greeks who saw the original play may have had very different opinions on this issue than people in societies where more equality has been achieved.

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