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Medea: Looking For Revenge Essay, Research Paper

Medea:Looking for Revenge

Medea, a play by the Greek playwright Euripides, explores the

Greek-barbarian dichotomy through the character of Medea, a princess

from the “barbarian”, or non-Greek, land of Colchis. Throughout the

play, it becomes evident to the reader that Medea is no ordinary woman

by Greek standards. Central to the whole plot is Medea?s barbarian

origins and how they are related to her actions. In this paper, I am

attempting to answer questions such as how Medea behaves like a female,

how she acts heroically from a male point of view, why she killed her

children, if she could have achieved her goal without killing them, if

the murder was motivated by her barbarian origins, and how she deals

with the pain of killing her children.

As an introduction to the play, the status of women in Greek society

should be briefly discussed. In general, women had very few rights. In

the eyes of men, the main purposes of women in Greek society were to do

housework such as cooking and cleaning, and bear children. They could

not vote, own property, or choose a husband, and had to be represented

by men in all legal proceedings. In some ways, these Greek women were

almost like slaves. There is a definite relationship between this

subordination of women and what transpires in the play. Jason decides

that he wants to divorce Medea and marry the princess of Corinth,

casting Medea aside as if they had never been married. This sort of

activity was acceptable by Greek standards, and shows the subordinate

status of the woman, who had no say in any matter like this.

Even though some of Medea?s actions were not typical of the average

Greek woman, she still had attitudes and emotions common among women.

For instance, Medea speaks out against women?s status in society,

proclaiming that they have no choice of whom to marry, and that a man

can rid themselves of a woman to get another whenever he wants, but a

woman always has to “keep [her] eyes on one alone.” (231-247) Though it

is improbable that women went around openly saying things of this

nature, it is likely that this attitude was shared by most or all Greek

women. Later in the play, Medea debates with herself over whether or

not to kill her children: “Poor heart, let them go, have pity upon the

children.” (1057). This shows Medea?s motherly instincts in that she

cares about her children. She struggles to decide if she can accomplish

her goal of revenge against Jason without killing her children because

she cares for them and knows they had no part in what their father did.

Unfortunately, Medea?s desire to exact revenge on Jason is greater than

her love for her children, and at the end of the play she kills them.

Medea was also a faithful wife to Jason. She talks about how she helped

Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, then helped him escape, even

killing her own brother. (476-483). The fact that she was willing to

betray her own family to be with Jason shows her loyalty to him.

Therefore, her anger at Jason over him divorcing her is understandable.

On the other hand, Medea shows some heroic qualities that were not

common among Greek women. For example, Medea is willing to kill her own

brother to be with Jason. In classical Greece, women and killing were

probably not commonly linked. When she kills her brother, she shows

that she is willing to do what is necessary to “get the job done”, in

this case, to be with Jason. Secondly, she shows the courage to stand

up to Jason. She believes that she has been cheated and betrayed by

him. By planning ways to get back at him for cheating on her, she is

standing up for what she believes, which in this case is that she was

wronged by Jason, but in a larger sense, she is speaking out against the

inferior status of women, which effectively allows Jason to discard

Medea at will. Third, she shows that she is clever and resourceful.

Rather than use physical force to accomplish her plans, she uses her

mind instead: “it is best to…make away with them by poison.”

(384-385) While physical strength can be considered a heroic quality,

cleverness can be as well. She does in fact poison the princess and the

king of Corinth; interestingly, however, she does not poison them

directly. “I will send the children with gifts…to the bride…and if

she wears them upon her skin…she will die.” (784-788) This shows her

cleverness because she is trying to keep from being linked to the crime,

though everyone is able to figure out that she was responsible anyway.

In a way, though, she is almost anti-heroic because she is not doing the

“dirty work” herself, which makes her appear somewhat cowardly.

Finally, there is the revenge factor. Many times heroes were out for

revenge against someone who did them or a friend wrong, and in this case

Medea is no exception, since she wants to have revenge against Jason for

divorcing her without just cause.

There are two main reasons why Medea decides to kill her children. The

first, and more obvious one, is that she feels that it is a perfect way

to complement the death of the princess in getting revenge on Jason.

When she tells the chorus of the plans to kill the children, they wonder

if she has the heart to kill her children, to which she replies, “[y]es,

for this is the best way to wound my husband.” (817). This shows that

she believes that by killing her children, she will basically ruin

Jason?s life, effectively getting her revenge. The second reason for


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