In the previous part we read about Jason’s voyage to Colchis and how with the help of Medea he gets the Golden Fleece, but in the process, Medea loses her family. After they reach Colchis, Pelias is killed by his daughters after they are tricked by Medea, but have to leave Colchis too.
Euripides’s play “Medea” starts from here.
Jason and Medea along with their children reach Corinth and seek asylum. Creon, the King of Corinth was aware of the fame and the heroism of Jason. Soon Jason leaves Medea and gets married to Glauce, the daughter of the King of Corinth. Medea is shocked to learn about the development and had been sulking at the rejection for no apparent reason, except ambition, which was so obvious. Needless to say that Medea felt used and discared.
The King of Corinth however, was uncomfortable with the presence of Medea whose reputation had preceded her in Corinth. He took it upon himself, to banish Medea and her children from Corinth, as Medea had made her disapproval of the marriage of Jason and Glauce public, in no uncertain terms. The king wanted her to leave immediately, but Medea managed to beg a day to make arrangements for the departure. The King was uncomfortable but agreed reluctantly to give her no more than the dawn of the next day.
When Jason learnt about the banishment, he ended up blaming Medea and washed his hands off from being able to do anything or even intervening in the said matter. Instead he offered her money as an aid which she would need during her exile, which Medea declined. Clearly Jason had found new family and couldn’t care much for Medea.
On the same day, the King of Corinth had a guest, in the childless Aegeus, King of Athens and fortunately an old friend of Medea. Medea requested him for a safe haven in Athens and in return promised him a son. Aegeus told him that since he was a state guest of Corinth, it would not be a good idea to take her with him, but if she could reach Athens, then she could be his guest and stay with him. Having secured her future, Medea set out for what she had in mind. She was not going to leave things so easy for Jason.
Medea was aware that Jason had a soft corner for his children, and if he wanted to intervene, it was only for the children and not so much for Medea. She approached Jason, and reasoned with him, that it wouldn’t be easy for her to take care of the children in exile and now that she was away, couldn’t he take care of the children? As a token of her appreciation, she would send the children to Glauce. Jason found it reasonable and accepted it and was sure Glauce should have no problems with the arrangement as long as Medea was not in Corinth.
To reflect her change of heart, she sent her children with gifts for Glauce. The children take with them a robe and a small crown for Glauce as gifts. Once the children return from Glauce, Medea awaits news from the palace. Glauce in the meanwhile was happy with the change of heart and was glad that Medea was leaving the next day. When the children had left, she decided to try the gifts. She put on the robe and the crown.
Unknown to Glauce, the robe and the crown had poison in them. As soon as she wore the dress and put on the crown, her body was covered with poison which ate into her, and she died even before she could realise what had happened to her. When the King saw the dead body of his daughter, he tried to save her and when he realised she was dead, he embraced her in grief. The poison soon spread over to him and he too met a slow bur torturous death.
When the news of the deaths in the palace reached Medea, she made her final move. She entered into the bedroom of her children and killed her own children. By now Jason had heard about the deaths of the King and Glauce. He rushed in to Medea’s room as he was sure that the soldiers of Corinth would kill his children. When he reached the room, he learnt that his children too had been murdered. He broke open the bedroom door of his children, only to find them missing. He could see Medea flying away in a flying chariot with the dead bodies of their children, depriving him of even the last look and the last rites of the children he so loved.
Medea escaped to Athens and left Jason with neither a family nor a loved one, and deprived him of all that he craved for in life.
This brings an end to the tragic life of Medea according to the play of Euripides. The story goes on to another conclusion, according to which, she flees to Athens and bears a child to the King of Athens. However, she never finds peace even there as she gets embroiled in palace intrigues and other issues, which we will skip for the time being.
While Medea is the heroine of Euripides’s play, she comes across as a vengeful woman, who doesn’t hesitate to murder, all of them pre-meditated. So what was it about this woman, a villain or a victim?
While the murder of an innocent brother, going against ones father and then killing her own children would be proof enough of an individual’s inherent criminality, the story goes beyond that. The story of Medea is not simply a tale of love and vengeance. It’s a beautiful drama of love and passion, at its extremities, though. It brings out the strength of passion along with the suffering of spurned love leading to the terrible consequences of vengeance. The great sorceress ends up being portrayed as a weak woman, succumbing to the emotions of love. For Medea, the crime or the hurt of being spurned by the man for whom she left her home, country and reputation was much stronger than the subsequent murders that led her to a life of uncertainty, which she had foreseen and thus the plan to escape made well in advance.
While many might not agree with her murdering her own children, this was dramatically expressed in the turmoil she goes through before she slays them. There was no dearth of love for the children, rather it was love, that made her kill her children, rather than they be killed by the men of the King or grow up to be vengeful creatures. Was it a mother killing her children to save them from a barbarous and torturous death by the kings soldiers or was it a mother killing her children just to deprive their father of the love of his children, is hardly debatable. Finally, she leaves with the bodies of her children depriving Jason of even the last rites of the children he so loved. However cruel this may sound; the pain that Jason goes through is the emotional victory for Medea, not that she could escape the emotional turmoil of killing her own children herself.
Medea’s actions are downright despicable, but then matters of heart are never judged by the rules of mind. The inner recesses of a woman’s mind are unfathomable and the ire of a spurned woman is more so. Is a woman, just a lover or wife and finally a mother? Isn’t she an individual who has a right to express her hatred and indignation? Must her expression of indignation always be within the boundaries of expected behaviour or cultural norms? Euripides’s Medea defies these and expresses her anger and resentment in her own way, which goes against the set norms of a dutiful wife or motherly love. Her passion is intense, albeit with aberrations which are wild, but by these aberrations she either reigns or ruins wayward men!
Call her a barbarian, a villain, the vile or whatever; Medea is the intense lover, in her own way who lets her passion dictate her ways and nothing else. It is important to note that the story of Medea has always been treated as a story of a woman who is vile and treacherous, while Jason is the tragic hero; it is only in Euripides’s play that Medea gets a different treatment and some semblance of respect.
What do you think?