Medea by Euripides

medeabookcoverSome people pontificate that The Medea of Euripides does not come together as a coherent and believable personality.  This is a peculiar point of view.  For are people coherent?  Are people even believable?  Neuroscientists (and other observers of the human species) have pointed out that the human mind allows us to simultaneously endorse notions that are massive contradictions, and it’s no secret that humans are not fully (or even nearly) rational creatures.

Also, an advantage of Euripides Medea is that the part offers abundant scope for an actress who may choose to emphasize different aspects of this multifaceted role.  When Euripides’ play premiered in 431 BCE, the legend of Jason and Medea was already an ancient tale.  In Greek mythology, Medea was an enchantress, the granddaughter of the son god Helios, and wife of the hero Jason. Jason may be a hero, but he’s not much of a husband. He brings Medea to Corinth and then abandons her for another woman, Glauce, the daughter of King Creon.

Jason explains that he could not pass up the opportunity to marry a princess; Medea is, after all, only a barbarian (that is, a country dweller). But, Jason says, one day he hopes to take Medea as a mistress.   Jason has viewed Medea as a commodity that cannot think for herself or go against his wishes. Jason’s main interests in life are legacy and reputation, not love, affection, and loyalty, and according to him, a woman should be willing to sacrifice everything in order to satisfy the needs of the man.   As Medea is about to show Jason, she is willing to sacrifice everything, but not in order to please him.  Not at all.

For the betrayal causes Medea to go on a killing spree, as she aims to erase both the past and the future in the most harrowing way imaginable.   Medea is a play about love, passion, betrayal, vengeance, and not the least about women’s roles in the household and in (an unjust) society at large.    The play was not a great success when it premiered (it ended third at the Dionysia festival in 431 BCE). The audience may have been offended by Medea’s barbarian identity or by some other aspect of the play.   Over time, though, it has become one of the great plays of the Western canon, and it is as urgent today as it ever was.


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