Study Guide For Euripides' Medea

Last updated 18 December 2013 by Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Dept. of Classics, Temple University

There is an on-line text at the Perseus Project web site, with links to explain people and places if you need more information.

Another version of the myth of Medea and Jason can be found in Pindar's Fourth Pythian Ode, which you can read Pindar's Pythian 4

Hypotheses and Selected Scholia to Euripides' Medea

The Fragments of Neophron's Medea

Images of the myth

Summary and questions

Medea, a barbarian witch, having betrayed her family to help her lover Jason win the Golden Fleece, now finds him courting another woman, the daughter of King Creon of Corinth and a 'real Greek'. After failing to persuade Jason to return to her, she decid es to kill her rival with a gift of poisoned clothing. She also decides to kill her children. King Aegeus of Athens stumbles along in search of a cure for his childlessness. He agrees to grant her asylum should she need it. She escapes from Jason at the e nd of the play on a dragon-drawn chariot given to her by her grandfather Helius, the sun god.

Consider Euripides' use of Jason. How does Euripides fulfill or confound your expectations of the myth of the Argo and the Golden Fleece. Compare him to other heroes we have studied. Does he seem heroic? What is virtuous or sleazy about him? What specifically has he done wrong? What motivates Jason? Note that he often only refers to their children as his.

This is still one of the most controversial plays ever written, with its powerful evocations of women's rights and Medea's choice of infanticide. Consider carefully what you think of its awesome heroine. Pay close attention to how and when she comes to de cide to kill her children.
Consider her reasoning and note when she wavers.

Does Medea remind you of other women in myth? What female type would she be if she were a character in the Odyssey ?. The audience would expect her to be a witch; does Euripides fulfill those expectations, or does he present a more "normal" woman?

Euripides, as Sophocles once said, drew men as they are, not as they ought to be. Do you agree? In what ways are his charactes, plots and actions more realistic. Note the extensive space given to "lower" characters like the Nurse and Tutor. Euripides like s to give all the necessary information (or at least it seems that way -- be careful) at the beginning of the play, as opposed to Sophocles.

Medea's great speech (lines 215ff) is stunningly modern in its account of the injustices done to women in patriarchal societies. Medea may seem at times a frightening character, but compare her real ethical concerns with the rather shallow and scheming h ollows of Creon and Jason. And do you see any significance in namelessness of her rival?

Consider the curious scene with Aegeus? Who is he and what is he doing there? What does the curious oracle given to him mean? Do you know who is born from Medea's promise to Aegeus? Think about it. Note where she is going at the end of the play.

At the end of the play, where is Medea? What impact does her position have?

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