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Medea | Study Guide


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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Euripides's play Medea.

Medea | Symbols


Poisoned Crown

The symbol of the crown can refer not only to the princess of Corinth but also to Creon (her father, the king) and to Jason, who was briefly king in his homeland of Iolcus. Medea has flouted the authority of Corinth by speaking against the royal crown and refusing exile. She then sends a poisoned golden crown, along with a poisoned robe, as a gift to soften the princess's heart toward Medea's children. The princess doesn't want to accept the gifts, but Jason urges her to. After the princess arranges the "golden crown,/fixing it in her hair in the bright mirror," she becomes as bright as the mirror by bursting into flame. Medea's jealousy, rage, and need for revenge have transformed a symbol of authority into a weapon that destroys the royal house. It is fitting that Jason is the one who encourages the princess to accept the gifts, because his betrayal of Medea is the cause of his new bride's death.

Offstage Cries

Medea and Jason's marriage house symbolizes their time together as husband and wife. Symbolically, all action and dialogue in Medea take place outside of the house. The play starts with the Nurse commenting and then talking with the Tutor about how the union between Medea and Jason is broken, making them "enemies." During this opening Medea's offstage cries from within the marriage house can be heard to punctuate the tale of betrayal the Nurse is recounting. Medea's cries draw the Chorus to her door, from which position it serves as a moral conscience to Medea even though its advice does not alter her plans.

Medea destroys the marriage house completely when she kills her sons within its walls. One child cries from within, "Help me ... help," and other boy calls out, "What do I do? How can I escape/my mother's hands?" These cries symbolize the final obliteration of the marriage. The door of the house is now closed, never to open again, just as Medea and Jason's marriage has been irrevocably destroyed by his betrayal and her revenge.

Golden Chariot

The final scenes with Medea escaping in a winged golden chariot bring awe and fear. Helios was the god in Greek mythology that brought the sun up and down each day by riding his golden chariot across the sky. Medea is the granddaughter of Helios, and her use of his chariot symbolizes her partial divinity and her female pride and strength. She claims her victory when she rises beyond Jason's reach and says to him, "You'll never/have me in your grasp, not in this chariot." While she escapes punishment in her chariot, her flight also reinforces her portrayal as an outsider who is not entirely human.

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