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Medea | Themes

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Passion

Medea's passion for Jason supersedes everything else, even her motherly love for her sons. References to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, support this theme. Jason speculates that Medea only loved and helped him because Eros, Aphrodite's son, shot her with an arrow. Medea herself admits that her passion, in the form of anger over Jason's betrayal, overwhelms her judgment.

The Chorus frequently mentions that passionate love is not desirable: "Love with too much passion/brings ... no fine reputation." The Chorus prays that Aphrodite not fill a "heart with jealousy/or angry quarreling" but "bless peaceful unions,/using wisdom." The Chorus insists that love without passion but with moderation and wisdom is better because it does not breed destruction.

Love is not the only passion explored in the play. Jason is driven by his passion for glory and status. These were his motives in setting off after the Golden Fleece, in seeking to recapture his throne from his uncle, and, of course, in leaving Medea to marry the princess.

Betrayal

Part of the play's power comes from Euripedes's ability to make the audience feel sympathy for Medea despite her monstrous actions. At the end of the play, she reminds Jason of what she did for him in the past and how she has taken revenge for his betrayal. In abandoning her, Jason has not only dishonored her, because a divorced woman is not respected, but also deprived her of an identity. She betrayed her own city-state for him and in exile will be dependent on the help of King Aegeus. His lack of shame and his refusal to credit the help she gave him are further instances of betrayal.

Medea also commits acts of betrayal and did so long before the beginning of the play. She killed her brother and betrayed her father to help Jason, and she manipulated the daughters of Pelias into killing him. Betrayal breeds betrayal as she uses her sons to deliver her deadly gifts to the princess and then kills them to make Jason suffer.

Revenge

Medea embodies the theme of revenge. From the beginning of the play, she plots her revenge on Jason, laying out her plans in monologues and in conversations with the Chorus. In dialogues with Creon and Jason, she feigns understanding while manipulating the men to participate in her revenge. Although she feels pain at the thought of killing the children and recognizes the crime as sacrilegious, her need to triumph over Jason is greater than her motherly love.

After Medea kills her children and Jason arrives, he reminds her of how she betrayed her family and claims the revenge he is suffering was actually meant for her. He says, "The avenging fury meant for you/the gods have sent to me." Yet Medea escapes punishment for her crimes, while Jason is going to have his "head smashed in," as Medea predicts. As Medea says, the gods know who began the fight.

Exile

Exile is part of Medea's past, present, and future. By committing crimes against her family, Medea exiled herself from Colchis, her homeland. Later, she and Jason left his home of Iolcus to become exiles in Corinth. After Jason marries the princess of Corinth, Medea is threatened with exile by King Creon.

The Athenian audience in ancient Greece would feel the fear of exile with Medea. Ancient Greece was composed of city-states that provided cultural identity, protection, and economic security. Without this safety, those in exile had to fend for themselves as individuals begging for entry and acceptance that might or might not be granted. Even Jason commiserates with Medea: "Exile brings with it all sorts of hardships."

As an exile, Medea is a foreigner to Jason and other Greeks in Corinth. From the start Medea is cast as "other"—a stranger from a foreign land and an object of suspicion and mistrust in the eyes of the Greeks. Her "otherness" is exacerbated by her divine ancestry and use of sorcery; she is not only not Greek, but she is not quite human. Jason believes he delivered her to civilization by bringing her to Greece. He says to Medea: "you now live among the Greeks,/not in a country of barbarians." According to Jason, this alone should be enough to satisfy Medea. Instead, his sanctimonious words infuriate Medea and fuel her rage.

Feminine Power

Though her actions are deplorable, Medea embodies the theme of feminine power. She tells the Chorus leader to let no person "think that I'm a trivial woman,/a feeble one who sits there passively." In her monologues she often bemoans a married woman's lack of power. She does not ruminate on inconsequential topics, and she uses the princess's vanity and interest in pretty things to exact her revenge.

In the end Jason compares Medea to female monsters from Greek mythology, calling her a "she-lion ... more bestial than Scylla." Scylla is the six-headed female monster living opposite the deadly whirlpool Charybdis in the Odyssey. She devours any man who passes through her channel of water. Medea dons these labels with pride, saying, "Call me lioness/or Scylla ... For I've made contact with your heart at last."

Euripides's Chorus is also a group of women who offer wise advice throughout the play, presenting another example of feminine power. The Chorus speaks to the theme when it says that women have their own "artistic Muse/who lives among us to teach us wisdom."

Questions for Themes

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Flashcards for Themes

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Term:

Thymele

Definition:

alter

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pierrot

Definition:

hero

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Zanni

Definition:

Nagging housekeepers

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Teatron

Definition:

seeing place

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