34. Medea, by Euripides (431 BC)

Plot :
Faced with exile after her husband Jason (of Argonaut fame) leaves her to marry the King’s daughter,  Medea plots to kill Jason, his new wife Glauce, King Creon and even her own two children.
My copy is the Penguin edition Medea and other plays  (ISBN 0140441298)

My thoughts:
Perhaps now the most famous of Euripides’ tragedies, Medea was initially so disliked by the Greek public that it came last at the festival where it was first presented.

Medea’s rage at being deserted by her husband, for whom she has sacrificed her home and family, drives her to carry out quite horrific murders, graphically described in a manner that would befit modern R-rated cinema offerings;  and then though she is torn over the imminent murder of her own children, her hatred of Jason drives her on to more carnage.

As to who is ‘right’, Medea or Jason? The audience might feel that Jason has certainly acted traitorously to Medea, but her crimes are too extreme to be excused.

Favourite lines/passages:
While there were many quotes of warning and wisdom, particularly at the start of the play, the sheer graphic horror of the description of Glauce’s and Creon’s deaths is overwhelming

“The she came to, poor girl, and gave a frightful scream,
As two torments made war on her together; first
The golden coronet round her head discharged a stream
Of unnatural devouring fire; while the fine dress
…… was eating her clear flesh. She leapt up from her chair
On fire, and ran, shaking her head and long hair
This way and that, trying to shake off the coronet.
….. The more she shook her head the fiercer the flame burned
At last, exhausted by agony, she fell to the ground;
Save to her father, she was unrecognizable,
Her eyes, her face, were one grotesque disfigurement;
Down from her head dripped blood mingled with flame; her flesh
Attacked by the invisible fangs of poison, melted
From the bare bone, like gum-drops from a pine-tree’s bark ….

Messenger, p. 54

But this is not enough, for now her father Creon enters the room and grasps her body to him, only to find, as he…

… tried to lift his aged body upright; and then,
As ivy sticks to laurel branches, so he stuck
Fast to the dress. A ghastly wrestling then begun;
He struggled to raise up his knee, she tugged him down,
If he used force, he tore the flesh off his bones.
At length the King gave up his pitiful attempts
Weakened with pain, he yielded, and gasped out his life.

Messenger, p. 54

Personal rating: Very forceful, 8/10.

Next : Back to the history of classical Greece and her warring neighbours. The Persian threat has been seen off as described by Herodotus but now siblings Athens and Sparta come to blows, in Thucylides’ History of the Peloponnesian war.

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