Lecture notes and reading notes on  Euripides’ Medea

I.     References

A.  The myth ancient and modern

1.    Margaret Atwood on the Legend and the novel by Christa Wolf: http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0498/wolf/essay

B.   Filicide—spouse revenge

1.     “not  rare” Houston Chronicle http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/topstory/950318

2.    Resnick’s final filicide motivation is "spouse revenge." This category includes cases in which parents kill their children to make their spouse suffer, most often in revenge for infidelity.

3.    Charles Segal: “In her first speech Medea wins over the chorus by a plea to solidarity in the face of women's victimization by a male-dominated society, and this response by the chorus is an essential step in the poet's paradoxical task of winning sympathy and understanding for a mother who kills her children.”

C.  ClassicNotes, by Eddie Borey 2001

1.    Plot summary and analysis: http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/medea/fullsumm

2.    Main Themes: http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/medea/themes.html

3.    Characters: http://www.gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Titles/medea/charlist.html

II.   Relation to Odyssey

A.  Kleos—male vs. female

B.  Home vs. Exile

C.  Mentis=guile or cleverness

D.  Betrayal vs. loyalty in marriage [Klytaimnestra vs. Penelope]

E.  Revenge

III. Relation to Antigone

A.  Tragic Love

1.    Antigone

a)   Loving characters commit suicide in despair, victimized by the egomaniacs

b)   Love as irresistible force—in tragedy love doesn’t redeem but dooms—not ladder but trap  *880-895 (p. 679)

c)    Lover and beloved: Antigone is loved but doesn’t love anyone except the dead and herself

2.    Medea

a)   Love is diseased 16 (p. 695)

b)   Everyone loves himself more than his neighbor—the Tutor 86 p. 697

c)    Jason: *The love question upset you…you women…if your life at night is good, you think you have everything, but if in that quarter things go wrong, you will consider your best and truest interests most hateful.

d)   Love in excess brings no honor…never let the poison of desire  621 (p. 708)

e)    Honor what is peaceful in the bed

f)    Parental love? Filicide

B.  Women

1.    Antigone

a)   Creon is misogynist, but gets comeuppance; no one else is.  But Ismene vs. Antigone expose status of women

b)   Ismene

(1) don’t override, be sensible, we are women, not born to contend with men, I have no choice, beg the dead to forgive me,  madness to rush to extremes
(2) You’re in love with impossibililty  105
(3) Ismene: you are truly dear to the ones who love you

2.    Medea

a)   We women are most unfortunate creatures 225-264 (p.700)

(1) We have to pay for a master for our bodies, because not to is worse
(2) No easy escape, no saying no, she has to go to a strange place, needs prophetic powed to manage her husband
(3) Its great if that works
(4) Man can get out and be with friends; we need to stay at home alone
(5) I’d rather fight than bear children 
(6) I ‘m worse off because I’m alone in this country

b)   Chorus 1: 408-434* (p.703) : getting back at men in general; they agree with her; turning the tables

c)    “Cease you muses of the ancient singers/to tell the tale of my unfaithfulness”414  cf. Nurse at 200 rejecting the poets

d)   Chorus: I have come upon questionings great than a woman should strive to search out  1058

(1) We too have a goddess to help us and accompany us to wisdom

e)    Kreon

(1) I’m afraid of you…you are a clever woman and angry…I hear you are threatening…I shall take precautions first [imprudent]

C.  Fame and glory

1.    Antigone

a)   Give me glory.  What greater glory could I win  561

2.    Medea—Do you think I’d have fawned on him without something to gain—she’s proud in front of chorus  

a)   [Is this male behavior?  What if this was Odysseus and Penelope?—proud of deception]

b)   schemes in front of them—I’ll kill Creon, Jason and Jason’s bride  “in craft and silence” 

(1) why in front of the chorus?

c)    She’ll preserve her honor; get revenge; never be mocked

d)   Boasts of revenge

e)    Women are helpless in doing good deeds but “are of evil the cleverest of contrivers.”  [Outsiders, like Iago, Edmund, Aaron the Moor, Richard III]

f)    *“let  no one think  me a weak one, stay at home, but rather just the opposite one who can hurt my enemies and help my friends for the lives of such perosns are most remembered” 791-4  [kleos]

3.    Chorus 3

a)   *Don’t do it—how cany holy Athens accept you?  Where will you find the courage or the skill of hand and heart? 832  You wont be able to.  [It’s a challenge, not intervening or outraged]

D.  The gods—order

1.    Antigone

a)   They punish pride and hybris, every body learns humility; their order is just; they impose limits, rules, law

b)   Chorus 2  The greatness of man; the dangers of greatness *377-415, *590-637

(1) Wonders walk the world but none the match for man—crossing the sea, crashing through breakers in winter, holding steady course, wearing away the oldest of the gods, the Earth, with his plow [domination of sea and earth], snares the birds, takes savage beasts, and fish—man the skilled the brilliant—he conquers all.  Speech and thought, quick as the wind, mood and mind for law that rules the city; he taught it all himself; and shelter, ready, resourceful man, never an impasse as he marches on the future, only from Death he will find no rescue, escapes from plagues.
(2) He forges on, now to destruction, now again to greatness.  The MORAL: when he weaves in the laws of the land and the justice of the gods…he and his city rise high, but the city casts out , that man who weds himself to inhumanity thanks to reckless daring.
(3) They recognize “dark sign from the gods”416

2.  Medea

a) Deus ex machina—special favor from grandfather

(1) Red figure vase painting: http://www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/CGPrograms/Dict/image/Medea.jpg

b)   Many things the gods achieve beyond our judgment.  What we thought is not confirmed and what we thought not god contrives 1394 (p.725)

c)     “In  Medea that [male] order is exposed as hypocritical and spineless, and in the character of Medea, we see who a woman whose suffering, instead of ennobling her, has made her monstrous”

IV.         New themes

A.  Rage, hate and revenge—cf. Anger of achilles—reverse process in Iliad

1.    Hatred between spouses

a)   *“It  is a strange form of anger, difficult to cure/when two friends turn upon each other in hatred” 509  (p. 706)

2.    How did they die You will delight me twice as much again if you say they died in agony 1107 (p. 718)

3.    Stronger than my afterthoughts is my fury  1053 (p.717)

B.  Children and generation—cf. Bible, the blessing; also Symposium

1.    Jason:

a)   It would have been better far for men to have got their children in some other way and women not to have existed.  Then life would have been good.  563 (p. 707)

b)   Sees children as means for improving his status and security in the state

c)    Both claim against the other, they loved the children—neither did  1371 (p.724)

d)   He wants to kiss and touch the boy’s delicate flesh 1378 – like Medea earlier

e)    He wishes he had never begot them to see them slaughter

2.    Medea

a)   For my children’s reprieve I would give my very life…go children…beg her not to let you be banished and give her the dress 

b)   false regard for children—she doesn’t care

c)    tells chorus she’s going to kill her children and works herself up to it; “take the sword and do not be a coward”  1220 [irony]—O I am an unhappy woman—pities herself as she revs up to filicide

d)   Addresses children: tells them how she will miss their care of her in her old age; that she wont be repaid for her pains in bearing them 1005   They smile

e)    She renounces her plans and then renounces her renunciation: “Do  I want to let go my enemies unhurt and be laughed at  for it?”1024 [her pride in reputation] and vacillates again: have pity upon the children/No by hells avenging fury it shall not be…every way it is fixed

f)    Kisses the children 1041-3 (p.717)  How delicate the skin, how sweet the breath of children…Go, go, I am overcome by sorrow

3.    Jason’s bride

a)    hated seeing Medea’s children; Jason asked her to ask father to reprieve; When she saw the dress she couldn’t restrain herself; She agreed and then put it on and admired herself in it 1117-1140 (p.719)

4.    Chorus 5**Parenthood is questionable…1064-1089 (p. 717-18)

a)   The childless, who never discover/whether children turn out as a good thin/or as something to cause pain are spared/many troubles in lacking this knowledge

(1) Think of a child who’s been a problem since age two, one who got worse in adolescence and doesn’t get better by late 20’s – into drugs, bad relationships, cant support themselves, gets kicked out of places you rent for them….

b)   Those who have in their homes the sweet presence of children…are all wasted away by their worries  1074

c)    Even if they turn out good, death will away with your children’s bodies…this most terrible grief of all 1088  NB

(1) The good child turning 32—in the prime, but showing signs of age …What will it be like when he turns 40 or 50—Plato’s grand idea of  regeneration and immortality itself getting old

d)   Contrast this to Medea’s egocentric idea of having children to take care of you in old age

e)    Child’s point of view: [what must it be like to be Medea’s children—“all about her”—and Jason’s—an ass]

5.    Chorus 6  1235-1255 (p. 721)

a)   Prayer to sun to hold her back

b)   Crying of children heard

c)    Shall I enter the house? O surely I should defend the children from murder

d)   More crying of children

e)    They talk about another case of fillicide but do nothing

f)    Charles Segal—“…Euripides interrupts the chorus's song by the children's offstage cry at the moment of their murder, and also intertwines the chorus's singing with their cries at the moment of their death.  By establishing the bond of oppressed womanhood with the chorus in her first speech, Medea had detached it from a possible protective role toward the children; but the fifth stasimon forces the chorus into a shockingly direct contact with the crime that it had reluctantly abetted (see 811-18). 

V.  Discussion questions

A.  Which incident, speech or character did you find most disgusting?

B.  Medea is successful in every encounter—why?

VI.         Passages to read

A.  Kreon and Medea: 259-363

B.  Aegeus and Medea: 647-744

C.  Jason and Medea: 843-951

VII.       Reading notes

A.  Episode 1: Nurse, Tutor and Chorus

1.    Nurse

a)   Love is diseased; regret for Medea’s coming here

b)   Jason has betrayed her; violated eternal promises and deserted wife and children

c)    Male abandonment of family

d)   Poor creature…her heart is violent…she’s a strange woman

e)    The children have no thought of mother’s trouble

2.    Children’s Tutor and Nurse gossip

a)   Kreon is planning to send her and children into exile

b)   Do you hear children, what a father he is to you [not sparing children] 82

c)    Everyone loves himself more than his neighbor  86

d)   Spare the children…keep away from her, she’s dangerous

3.    Medea (offstage)

a)   I wish, I wish I might die…I hate you, children of a hateful mother.  I curse you and your father.  Let the whole house crash  [total negativity]

b)   I would find my release in death

c)    I pray I may see him and his bride shattered

4.    Nurse

a)   Why do you hate children…Great people’s tempers are terrible…greatness brings no profit  127

5.    Chorus

a)   It often happens. Don’t be hurt 155

b)   I wish she might relax her rage

6.    Nurse

a)   Why didn’t poets write songs to cure grief instead of provide pleasure at banquets where its not needed. 200

B.  Episode 2: Medea Chorus and Kreon

1.    Medea enters

a)   Sounds reasonable now

b)   We women are most unfortunate creatures

(1) We have to pay for a master for our bodies, because not to is worse
(2) No easy escape, no saying no, she has to go to a strange place, needs prophetic power to manage her husband
(3) Its great if that works
(4) Man can get out and be with friends; we need to stay at home alone
(5) I’d rather fight than bear children  [cf. NYTimes series]
(6) I ‘m worse off because I’m alone in this country

c)    When wronged in love, women are bloody; Don’t give away my secret schemes

2.    Kreon

a)   leave the country now

3.    Medea

a)   Yet still in spite of all I’ll ask the question, why

4.    Kreon

a)   I’m afraid of you…you are a clever woman and angry…I hear you are threatening…I shall take precautions first [Bozo]

5.    Medea

a)   I’m often envied for cleverness…I will not raise my voice but submit to my betters.  312—She’s lying

b)   give me only an extra day  “It is the children being in trouble that I mind” --another lie  343

6.    Kreon relents: “Even now I know that I am making a mistake” [Bozo 2]

7.    Chorus: O unfortunate one

8.    Medea—Do you think I’d have fawned on him without something to gain—she’s proud in front of chorus  

a)   [Is this male behavior?  What if this was Odysseus and Penelope?—proud of deception]

b)   schemes in front of them—I’ll kill Creon, Jason and Creusa  “in craft and silence” 

(1) why in front of the chorus?

c)    She’ll preserve her honor; get revenge; never be mocked

d)   Boasts of revenge

e)    Women are helpless in doing good deeds but “are of evil the cleverest of contrivers.”  Cf. Iago, Edmund, Aaron the Moor, Richard III

C.  Chorus 1: 408-434*: getting back at men in general; they agree with her; turning the tables

1.    “Cease you muses of the ancient singers/to tell the tale of my unfaithfulness”414  cf. Nurse at 200 rejecting the poets

D.  Episode 3: Jason, Medea, Chorus

1.    Jason – more male weakness

a)   With reasonable submission to our ruler’s will, you might have lived in this land

b)   Consider yourself lucky…I have come to make some provision for you

c)    Even if you hate me I cannot think badly of you

2.    Medea

a)   Your overconfidence: Coward, lack of manliness, shamelessness  [good retort]

b)   But I can speak ill of you and lighten my heart and you will suffer

c)    I saved your life, I killed my brother to give you safety, … killed Pelias to take away your fear

d)   You clasped my knees in supplication

e)    You creep

3.    Chorus

a)   *“It  is a strange form of anger, difficult to cure/when two friends turn upon each other in hatred” 509 

b)   rendering of divorce

4.    Jason

a)   I’ll be the orator—you started it… There is your reply

b)   It was love’s inescapable power that compelled you to keep my person safe…you have gotten more from me than you gave

c)    instead of living among barbarians, you inhabit a greek land (!)

d)   You got the glory—kleos—of being a clever woman[cf. Kreon] 530

e)    Wedding with the princess—a clever move, a wise one, I made it in your best interests and the childrens.  [would this inspire murder and worse?]

(1) I was not tired of your bed
(2) my children with her would  draw the families together

f)    *The love question upset you…you women…if your life at night is good, you think you have everything, but if in that quarter things go wrong, you will consider your best and truest interests most hateful.

g)   It would have been better far for men to have got their children in some other way and women not to have existed.  Then life would have been good.  563

5.    Chorus wont buy it

6.    Medea

a)   Mocks his oratory: “the plausible speaker/who is a villain deserves the greatest punishment”  [look who’s talking”

b)   You’re a coward; you married behind my back, invalidating all these reasons

7.    Jason

a)   Don’t be a fool; accept my money and contacts abroad

8.    Medea

a)   I shall never take a thing from you

E.  Chorus 2

1.    Love in excess brings no honor…never let the poison of desire  621

2.    Honor what is peaceful in the bed

3.    Poor Medea who is exiled

F.   Episode 4: Aegeus, Medea, Chorus

1.    He greets her as a friend and equal—jolly fellow

2.    He wants children and is married

3.    “Sure what is needed is cleverness” to interpret the oracle’s word

4.    He is not to loosenthe hanging foot of the wine-skin 663

5.    She finishes the oracle, indicating her intelligence, and also the message which is keep chaste till you’re with your wife—666

6.    But he doesn’t understand that she has figured it out and she doesn’t tell him—another triumph over a man—and he blithely says he’ll seek the answer from king of Troezen

7.    She gets him to ask and tells him her woes; he sympathizes completely

8.    She promises to provide drugs that will bring him children

9.    He agrees to provide her with refuge, “first for the sake of the gods and then for the birth of children” 705, but not to incur Corinthian wrath by taking her away

10.         She convinces him to say oath he’ll do so under any circumstances, and convinces himself that will provide him with future excuse

11.         M. is exultant and tells chorus her plan which is to use children to play on Jason’s guilt and have them bring the poisoned robe to his wife and then to kill their children to ruin the whole of Jason’s house…

12.         *“let  no one think  me a weak one, stay at home, but rather just the opposite one who can hurt my enemies and help my friends for the lives of such perosns are most remembered” 791-4  [kleos]

13.         Chorus tries to argue her out of it—“Of women you will be most unhappy”  She accepts that price 802

14.         Nurse participates in her plot

G.  Chorus 3

1.    *Don’t do it—how cany holy Athens accept you?  Where will you find the courage or the skill of hand and heart? 832  You wont be able to.  [It’s a challenge, not intervening or outraged]

H.  Episode 5: Jason, Medea, Chorus

1.    Jason responds to her request; says he will listen

2.    She falsely apologizes—takes all blame on herself; tells him exactly what he wants to hear: “What is wrong with me? Let me give up anger, for the gods are kind to me…I think that you are wise in having this other wife…I should have helped you…taken pleasure in attendance on your bride…we women are what we are—perhaps a little worthless 866

3.    Uses children—sheds tears—the chorus does not reveal her plan to Jason, or do anything to save her children

4.    Jason is pleased—you have come to the right decision like the clever woman you are.  Children will succeed under his influence

5.    M: I know this is the best thing, not to be in your way by living here

6.    She convinces him to get new wife to beg the king for permission to let the children be reprieved from banishment [she wants to get rid of children]

7.    She’ll send wedding gifts to Jason’s bride with the children [she allies herself with Jason in agreement to sway Jason’s bride]

8.    Jason blindly says no, “If  my wife considers me of any value she will think more of me than money 938 sure that Medea wants to send gold dress to make wife love him more

9.    For my children’s reprieve I would give my very life…go children…beg her not to let you be banished and give her the dress  [evil]

I.     Chorus 4

1.    No hope left for children’s lives…bride poor bride…wretched bridegroom…poor soul…in your grief I weep too, mother of little children

J.    Episode 6:  Medea, chorus, children [silent]

1.    Tutor returns with news that children are reprieved; dress delivered; Medea turns and weeps as her scheme succeeds—I am lost 984

2.    Addresses children: tells them how she will miss their care of her in her old age; that she wont be repaid for her pains in bearing them 1005   They smile

3.    She renounces her plans and then renounces her renunciation: “Do I want to let go my enemies unhurt and be laughed at  for it?”1024 [her pride in reputation] and vacillates again: have pity upon the children/No by hells avenging fury it shall not be…every way it is fixed

4.    Kisses the children [yech]  How delicate the skin, how sweet the breath of children…Go, go, I am overcome by sorrow  [sick]

5.    Stronger than my afterthoughts is my fury  1053

K.  Chorus 5*

1.    I have come upon questionings great than a woman should strive to search out  1058

2.    We too have a goddess to help us and accompany us to wisdom [wisdom is sad]

3.    **Parenthood is questionable…(!):

a)   The childless, who never discover/whether children turn out as a good thin/or as something to cause pain are spared/many troubles in lacking this knowledge

(1) Think of a child who’s been a problem since age two, one who got worse in adolescence and doesn’t get better by late 20’s – into drugs, bad relationships, can support themselves, gets kicked out of places you rent for them….

b)   Those who have in their homes the sweet presence of children…are all wasted away by their worries  1074

c)    Even if they turn out good, death will away with your children’s bodies…this most terrible grief of all 1088  NB

(1) The good child turning 32—in the prime, but showing signs of age …What will it be like when he turns 40 or 50—Plato’s grand idea of  regeneration and immortality itself getting old

d)   Contrast this to Medea’s egocentric idea of having children to take care of you in old age

e)    Child’s point of view: [what must it be like to be Medea’s children—“all about her”—and Jason’s—an ass]

L.   Episode 7: Messenger, Medea, Chorus

1.    How did they die You will delight me twice as much again if you say they died in agony 1107

2.    He tells story in detail—to please her?

a)   Servants were pleased by appearance of reconciliation

b)   Jason’s bride hated seeing Medea’s children

c)    Jason asked her to ask father to reprieve

d)   When she saw the dress she couldn’t restrain herself

e)    She agreed and then put it on and admired herself in it

f)    A gory, detailed horrendous description of her pain

g)   Ends speech with “of mortals there is no one that is happy”

3.    Chorus says Jason deserved it but pities Jason’s bride

4.    Medea tells chorus she’s going to kill her children and works herself up to it; “take the sword and do not be a coward”  1220 [irony]—O I am an unhappy woman—pities herself as she revs up to filicide

M.  Chorus 6

1.    Prayer to sun to hold her back

2.    Crying of children heard

3.    Shall I enter the house? O surely I should defend the children from murder

4.    More crying of children

5.    They talk about another case of fillicide but do nothing

N.  Episode 8  Jason and Chorus and Medea

1.    Jason comes to spare life of his boys from vengeance coming to Medea 1276

2.    [he doesn’t seem to mourn new wife’s death—she was only path to power and money]

3.    Chorus tells him, with some satisfaction, that his children are dead 1284

4.    Doors open, Medea appears above house in chariot drawn by dragons with dead bodies of children—Helios, her grandfather has provided her with chariot [disgusting god]

5.    Jason suddenly realizes she’s been a monster all along

6.    Jason says she feels the pain too

7.    Revenge: grief is gain when you cannot mock it   1337

8.    Mutual hatred expressed

9.    She wont give him bodies to bury but will bury them and will establish a holy feast and sacrice to atone for the blood guilt

10.         You will die without distinction, struck on the head by a timber

11.         Both claim against the other, they loved the children—neither did  1371

12.         He wants to kiss and touch the boy’s delicate flesh

13.         He wishes he had never begot them to see them slaughter

O. Chorus 7

1.    Many things the gods achieve beyond our judgment.  What we thought is not confirmed and what we thought not god contrives 1394