Medea\'s 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 the bride...and if
she wears them upon her skin...she