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Essay on Medea, by Euripides
Written in 431 BCE, right on the cusp of the Peloponnesian War, which Athens would fight with Sparta — and lose — Euripides’ play, Medea, mirrors the many tragedies that would soon afflict Athens. Euripides seems to anticipate the rather bleak Athenian future, the demise of democratic values, and the ongoing degradation of women, by focusing on the plight of Medea, the infamous wife of Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology, and a woman not easily scorned, as Jason finds out. Not easily scorned because she is ready to assert her rights in a society that is male dominated, in a way that has been condemned by readers of the play for centuries. But Euripides tells us to withhold judgment. Medea, he says, was abandoned by her husband, Jason. And this was after Medea had left her own family, even helped to murder her brother, in order to win the Golden Fleece for Jason. What’s a woman to do when, after giving her husband everything she has, he abandons Medea by trading on the fame he has won slaying the dragon guarding the fleece, and then marrying a woman in line for a throne. Pretty mean- spirited of him, right? He deserved to die, or at least to suffer. Medea thought so. Who could disagree?
Euripides was himself an early feminist who criticized Athenians for their hypocrisy in not admitting women as equals. His Medea is a play about social and gender justice: Jason had disturbed reason and justice, and helped destroy the harmony so coveted by Greeks. So Medea is perhaps a play about justified violence? Euripides picks up the narrative after Jason already has stolen the Golden Fleece and settled in Corinth with his wife, Medea, and their two children. But once there Jason decides to take up with Glauce, daughter of King Creon. Medea is ordered to leave the kingdom with her children. Such a fate! So she decides to alter her destiny. She commits a horrible crime that is sure to offend the gods, and everybody else: she murders the king, his daughter and, for good measure, the kids. And then she escapes from Corinth, leaving Jason alone to contemplate his troubles. Well, there it is, the whole tragedy. But the hardest part still is to decide who is guilty, even by Greek standards then. Or if violence was justified? And most importantly, who was responsible for the crimes committed by Medea? Was Jason the real perpetrator? Or Medea? This I leave to students to decide.
Students should try to analyze Euripides’ motives: what kind of ethical framework is he invoking in this play? Is he deliberately complicating ethical decisions? Does he really think that feminists might have to apply dramatic responses to a hypocritical male-dominated society that denies rights to women? Or is he asserting the rights of women by being deliberately offensive? Students should respond to these questions by assessing guilt? Who is guilty of the murders of the children? Should Medea accept the blame totally? Partially? And Jason?
Essays should be about three pages long, about 1000-1200 words. Spacing should be 1.5, margins should be set at 1 inch. The best essays will cite directly from the play, have a consistent point of view, and coherent interpretations and analyses of the motivations of the main characters. Essays are due Tuesday, September 25, at the beginning of class. A late essay will lose a full letter grade for every day it’s late.

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