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Medea | Study Guide


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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of the Prologos of Euripides's play Medea.

Medea | Prologos | Summary



The prologos consists of the Nurse's monologue, the dialogue between the Nurse and the Tutor, and the bellows of Medea from within the house. In the Nurse's monologue, she wishes for the erasure of past events, such as the making of Jason's ship, the Argo, which sailed to Medea's land of Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. She laments the crimes Medea committed to help Jason, acknowledging that things between Jason and Medea had been "secure and safe" because they had stood "as one." But Jason's betrayal has disrupted this harmony.

The Nurse continues to set up the conflict in the play in her monologue by telling of Jason's marriage to the princess of Corinth, which causes Medea to despair, to "[waste] away," and to be "always in tears." She goes on to explain Medea's exile from her homeland and her growing estrangement from her own children. Fearing Medea may stab herself, the king, or Jason, the Nurse calls her a "dangerous woman."

The Nurse and the Tutor discuss Medea's woe. The Tutor tells the Nurse he overheard gossip that King Creon plans to banish Medea and her children from Corinth. The Nurse curses Jason for his rejection of his own sons. Asking the Tutor to keep the children from Medea because of her rage, the Nurse hopes this anger "falls on enemies, not on friends!" When Medea enters to speak with the Nurse, she does, indeed, connect her children with her rage toward Jason's betrayal, asking the house and those in it to "crash down in ruins."


The prologos creates an urgent, tension-filled atmosphere, crackling with the reverberations of Medea's fury. The Nurse introduces the themes of passion and betrayal in her first few sentences, and they are reinforced when the audience hears Medea's cries from within the house. Medea's temper is "intense," and the Nurse muses it will "catch fire." This suggests destruction and accompanies the introduction of the symbol of offstage cries. The doors open as if the house were breaking as Medea screams from within, calling on the world to heed her anger.

In her retelling of the tales of Jason's acquisition of the Golden Fleece, the Nurse tells a story that would have been familiar to the Athenian audience. Medea, already an exile from her family, helped Jason, who needed the help of others, including that of a sorceress from a non-Greek land. It is significant that the first line of the play references Jason's ship the Argo, which sailed from Greece to the land of Colchis, Medea's homeland. The Nurse takes the audience back to the source of the tragedy when she says, "O how I wish that the ship the Argo/had never sailed off." Had that one event not taken place, Jason and Medea would not have met, and the present events would not be happening.

Euripides goes against convention by having servants relay information about the two main characters, who are already entrenched in their new roles of betrayer and betrayed. The setup of the main characters mirrors the mood of urgency, where tragedy will unfold from their actions. The Nurse's words show the characters not as masters of the house who are above questioning but as failing humans whose decisions result in permanent consequences.

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