Medea (431 BC)
Originally, I wasn’t going to read this Greek tragedy but my students from last semester convinced me that I should and I’m glad I listened to them. There’s so much relevance to today’s social issues that I wonder why I didn’t read this Greek play in high school or during undergrad.
It’s a simple story. Medea travels to Corinth with her husband, Jason, and their two children. She eventually gets thrown aside when Jason marries King Creon’s daughter. Medea feels betrayed that Jason has a mistress, but Jason sees it as an opportunity for wealth and abundance. As a result, Medea decides to get revenge by killing Jason’s new wife, King Creon, and her children.
While reading this Greek tragedy, I couldn’t help but recall the quote “The ends justify the means,” which is a concept in Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. The injustice that Medea received was that her husband, Jason, decided to marry another woman and abandoned her. So rather than complying to her husband’s decisions, she felt that the only way to receive proper justice is by killing Jason’s new bride, the bride’s father, King Creon, and her own children. As a reader, you can understand why she wants to murder the princess and King Creon, but you may question whether or not it is morally right to kill her own children as well. The children are innocent and so, they should be allowed to live? Yet, I can understand Medea’s perspective: by killing her own children, it is the ultimate revenge towards Jason because she’s killing his lineage and it is also the ultimate act of destroying their connection with each other. However, as a reader, you may feel a bit uncomfortable towards the fact that she is willing to kill innocent lives for her own selfish gains. This leads to the question of whether or not the punishment fits the crime.
Also, as a reader, you should feel somewhat pity towards Medea because she does show some remorse and guilt for murdering her children. In fact, there are several internal dialogues where she debates whether or not she should commit the act. For example, when she hears Jason’s excitement about raising his sons and seeing them grow up as great men, Medea begins to cry because she knows that this future isn’t possible. And so, Medea’s actions aren’t out of madness but rather a rational approach of what she believes to be an appropriate punishment towards Jason.
Yet, Jason’s actions weren’t done out of lust and desire but rather political gains that could help benefit the family as they will be wealthy and powerful. Jason thought that he was building a future for his children and also allowing Medea to live a comfortable lifestyle, but instead, Medea sees his actions as disloyalty to her. There’s some great debate about this situation on whether or not this is the correct form of justice but it really all depends on your perspective on the manner and what types of values you align yourself with.
The other concept I took note on about this Greek tragedy is that you can definitely align Medea as a feminist. Rather than staying obedient and passive about the whole situation, she decided to take action. Also, she has many monologues where she discusses the limitations of power as a married woman and how she doesn’t want to conform to those values. On the side note, though, I can definitely see how the play, Medea, could be used as a discussional text for topics like abortion because Medea uses her power to kill her own children and depending on your values, you can interpret Medea and her actions the way you see fit.
Yet, if there’s one thing I learned from this Greek tragedy, it is that you should never hurt a woman’s heart because to some degree, I think women are capable of being like Medea.