Euripides’ Vision Of Medea’s Character

Critics point out that Euripides has a much greater appreciation for the marginalized parts of society than his more famous predecessors. For example, many of his leading characters are either women and people of the lower classes’. This contrasted sharply with the Greek dramatic tradition which was primarily focused on men of high birth and divine immortals. It is not only other aspects that make Euripides’ plays shine in retro analysis. They have a timeless universality due to their realism.

The treatment Euripides gives to the legend about Medea contains subtle subversions and innovations that are balanced with the patriarchal ethos. Richard Rutherford states in his preface that Euripides is likely to have made Medea kill her children intentionally. This is, of course, the central conflict in the play. Euripides poses the question whether Medea could be justified in seeking revenge on her wronged mother. Euripides brings up the question whether Medea’s need for revenge as a wronged woman is justified. Rutherford adds, “What kinda women could make it a point to kill her children?” Medea is a woman who lives in a patriarchal society outside her home country. She was also alienated from her husband and exiled from her home state. Aside from Aegeus’ promise of asylum and initial public sympathy, Medea is forced to rely entirely on her own ability to fulfill her purpose. No wonder Medea appears to be in deep despair at the beginning of the play.

Euripides uses a unique technique at the outset to stress the tragic fate of Medea. Later, the play is recited several times. The nurse starts the play by lamenting about the past. It serves to highlight the tragedy and convey the basic premise. The tragic events would not have happened if it wasn’t. Medea would have prevented numerous murders, including Pelias’ brother. In fact, Medea also prevents Creon’s and Medea’s murders. It is clear that Medea is a dangerous woman with witchcraft skills and not afraid to kill people for her purposes.

Oaths were held a high place in Greek culture. Jason’s rejection from the marriage oath highlights the injustice against Medea. Euripides’ perspective and interactions with the characters, as well as the chorus and Corinthian woman chorus, continue to justify Medea’s rage and express sympathy for her. The democratic Greek system of justice and debate (agon), meant that public sympathy was considered important. This is why Medea finally finds her balance and comes out in public to appeal. It is this passionate observation of the female plight of a patriarchal society that Medea makes. This objective treatment is the hallmark of Euripides’ play. It is also heartening that Euripides could be so aware of gender issues in the fifth Century BCE.

Euripides also provides insightful commentary on patriarchal hypocrisy by stating: “Is it so different than the rest of mankind?” This sentiment is also echoed in Jason’s first agony scene with Medea. Jason is bold in his reasoning, owing to the fact that he was born as a male. Although they could be seen as symbols of female solidarity, Medea and Jason boldly proclaim that “No more shall our women suffer the burdens of ill-repute”. In support of Medea, however, they refuse acceptance of her final decision.

Here’s the declaration: “I’ll kill my children; they will not be taken from me…to tolerate the mockery my enemies” It’s obvious that Medea was expressing her mental turmoil. Euripides describes the reasons behind Medea’s actions in a dialogue with Euripides. Yes. This is how I will most hurt my husband. These statements are indicative of the deranged thinking that Medea harbors, which is rooted in an egotism that values justice and honour. It is possible to see that Medea may have had some pragmatic thinking behind the murder of her children. Jason assures her that she can trust Jason, but what would their fate be? “They must be murdered; there is no alternative. They must be killed. There is no other way.

Medea feels a sense of vindication when she reads the detailed account of Creon’s death and that of his daughter. She ends up taking revenge on Creon and Jason, who she blames for her predicament. Although public sentiment begins to shift towards Jason, Medea makes a strong argument that she was not responsible for her conduct. It’s interesting to see the irony: while the chorus asks the Sun God to stop the murders of the children, Medea is aided by his chariot. This could be taken to mean that the gods are agreeing with Medea’s senses of justice. It is difficult to make a decision because of Euripides’ ambivalence. But that is what makes great literature.

Finaly, it becomes clear that Jason has been made to suffer by Medea. She denies Jason the burial of their children. It is unfair and vain to question Euripides’ motives for the play. Although his feelings towards women are evident, it seems a bit absurd to suggest that Euripides intended Medea’s behavior to be viewed as the ideal feminist retaliation. This is simply because he chose her method of revenge. Euripides’ intent seems to be to show the tragedy or an aspect in human behaviour through the depiction and social reactions of inner conflicts and their consequences, as well as to discuss the notions justice and revenge. Euripides, who is not a feminist voice, prefers to use objective logic and comment on the current circumstances, as expressed by the chorus.

“The rolling centuries have much that we can tell about our side. Much, as well, about men’s.”

Instead of focusing on Euripides’ intentions, Medea should be treated as a single work of literature that combines the trivialities and the humanity into a timeless framework.


  • davidwong

    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.