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Medea

Production

The setting of the Medea, as in the case of most Greek tragedies, does not require a change of scene. Throughout the play the skene with at least one door represents the facade of Jason's and Medea's house in Corinth. Even when the poet directs the audience's attention to events elsewhere, as in the case of the deaths of Creon and his daughter in the royal palace, there is no shift of scene. These events are described in a speech delivered by a messenger (1136-1230)1 rather than enacted before the audience. The messenger speech eliminates the need for scene changes, which, due to the limited resources of the ancient theater, would have been difficult and awkward.2 Euripides, like Aeschylus and Sophocles, made a virtue of the necessity of this convention of the ancient theater by writing elaborate messenger speeches which provide a vivid word picture of the offstage action.

1The numbers refer to lines in the Medea.
2This also explains why Creon rather surprisingly comes to Medea's house to deliver his decree of banishment (271 ff.) instead of summoning her to the royal palace.

In the exodos of the play Medea appears with the bodies of her children in a chariot drawn by dragons either on the roof of the skene or suspended from the mechane in the manner of a deus ex machina3 She indeed acts with the power, authority and prophetic knowledge of a "god from the machine" when she establishes a festival and ritual in honor of her dead children, reveals her plans for the future and prophesies the death of Jason (1378-1388).

3Since there are virtually no stage directions in the texts of tragedies, we cannot be sure which manner of presentation Euripides intended.

To learn more about ancient Greek Theater, see the Greek Theater Knowledge Builder.

EXERCISE FOR READING, COMPREHENSION AND INTERPRETATION

Prologue (1-130) - Nurse, Tutor, Medea
What is the dramatic purpose of the Nurse's speech (1-48)? The Nurse begins by referring to Jason's ship Argo which brought Medea to Greece from her home in Colchis (Black Sea area). According to the Nurse, why did Medea sail with Jason (8)? What did Medea do upon arriving in Greece at Iolcus (9-10)? What is the present situation in Corinth (17-25)? What is Medea's attitude toward her children and what does the Nurse fear she might do (36-43)? What rumor has the Tutor heard (70-71)? What is the Nurse's view of Jason's behavior (82-84)? the Tutor's (85-88)? What feelings does Medea herself express (111-114)? What moral does the Nurse draw from the situation (119-130)?

Parados (131-212) - Chorus, Medea and Nurse
The parados is chanted by the Chorus along with the Nurse and Medea. How does the Chorus of Corinthian women feel toward Medea (176-183)?

First Episode (214-409) - Medea, Chorus, Creon
How does Medea view her situation in Corinth (214-224)? her situation as a married woman and mother (228-251)? as a foreigner (252-258)? What request does Medea make of the Chorus (259-266)?

What order does Creon give to Medea (272-276)? Why does he do this (282-291)? How does Medea reply to Creon's concerns (306-315)? How does Creon react to Medea's reply (316-323)? What request does Medea make of Creon (340-343)? What appeal does she make in support of her request (344-347)? What is Creon's reaction to her request (348-356)?

After Creon's departure, how does Medea explain her behavior (368-372)? What does Medea intend to do (373-385)? What problem is a concern to Medea (386-390)? How determined is Medea to put her plan into action (390-394)? What is Medea's motivation (395-398; 404-405)? Medea's reference to her planning and contriving (401) would remind the audience of the meaning of the name Medea 'the cunning contriver'. Her mention of her grandfather Helius, the sun god, calls attention to her divine ancestry (406). What is Medea's view of the female sex (408-409)?

First Stasimon (410-445)
What is the Chorus's reaction to the last two lines (408-409) of Medea's speech (410-420)? What answer does the Chorus give to the ancient poets' depiction of female faithlessness (421-430)? What is their view of Medea's situation (431-445)? To what is the Chorus referring when they mention the lack of respect for oaths and of shame in Greece (439-440)?

Second Episode (446-626) - Jason, Chorus and Medea
What criticism does Jason make of Medea (446-458)? What does he intend to do for her and his children (459-464)? What answer does Medea give to Jason's offer (465-472)? What had Medea done for Jason (476-487)?4 What accusation does Medea make against Jason (492-495; 510-511)? What is Medea's predicament (502-515)?

4Pelias, fearing because of a prophecy that Jason would bring about his death, was hostile to the hero and had tried to bring about Jason's death by sending him on the quest for the Golden Fleece.

What is Jason's view of why Medea had helped him (527-533)? According to Jason what advantages did Medea derive from coming to Greece with him (535-544)? What are the reasons that Jason gives for marrying the Corinthian princess (548-567)? What criticism does Jason make of women in general (569-575)? What criticism does Medea make of Jason's arguments (580-587)? What help does Jason offer Medea (610-614)? What is Medea's reaction to this offer (616-618)?

Second Stasimon (627-662)
What view of love ("Cypris" = Aphrodite) does the Chorus present in the first stanza (627-634)? What prayer does the Chorus make in reference to Cypris in the second stanza (635-641)? To whom is the Chorus referring in the third and fourth stanzas (643-662)?

Third Episode (663-823) - Aegeus, Medea and Chorus
What question did Aegeus ask of the Delphic Oracle (669)? What was the oracle's answer (679-681)? What request does Medea make of Aegeus (710-713)? What does Medea offer to do in return for Aegeus (715-718)? What is Aegeus's reply (723-724)? What is the only condition under which Aegeus will receive Medea into his land (Athens) (727-730)? What does Medea require Aegeus to do(731-732)? Why (734-740)? What is Aegeus's reaction to this requirement (741-745)? By whom does Medea make Aegeus swear (746)?

After Aegeus's departure why does Medea rejoice (764-771)? What will Medea do now with regard to Jason's intended bride (783-790)? What does she plan to do next (792-793)? What will she achieve through this action (794-806; 817)? What is her motivation in this action (797; 807-810)? Why at this point in the play has Medea decided on this form of revenge?

Third Stasimon (824-865)
What has occasioned this choral ode in praise of Athens ("descendants of Erechtheus" = Athenians)? What does the Chorus specifically praise in reference to Athens (824-845)? What does the Chorus ask Medea in the second half of the ode (846-865)?

Fourth Episode (866-975) - Jason, Medea, and Chorus
What general attitude does Medea now present to Jason (869-905)? What is Jason's reaction to Medea's apparent change of mind (908-913)? How are lines 916-921 ironic? What does Medea want Jason to do (939-940)? How does Medea suggest Jason should go about this (942-943)? What will Medea do to help Jason in this endeavor (947-955)? What does Jason think of this help (959-963)?

Fourth Stasimon (976-1001)
What does the Chorus predict for Jason's intended bride, Jason, and Medea?

Fifth Episode (1002-1250)
What news does the Tutor report to Medea (1002-1004)? What is Medea's reaction to this news (1005-1016)? Why does she react in this way? What reasons does Medea give why she should kill her children? Explain how Medea is ambivalent with regard to what she is considering (1021-1080)?

What is the Chorus's view of the parent-child relationship (1081-1115)? What specific relevance do these general comments have for the immediate situation of the play?

The Messenger reports the deaths of the princess and Creon himself to Medea. How were their deaths accomplished (1168-1221)? What general comments does the Messenger make on what has just happened (1224-1230)? What does Medea intend to do now (1236-1250)?

Fifth Stasimon (1251-1292)
What prayer does the Chorus make to the Earth and the Sun (1251-1260)? What warning does the Chorus give to Medea (1261-1270)?

Exodos (1293-end) - Jason, Chorus and Medea
What concern does Jason express upon hearing of his children's deaths5 (1326)? What assumption does Jason make about the attitude of the Sun (Helius) toward Medea's action (1327)? Is he correct in this assumption? Explain your answer. According to Jason, why did Medea kill her children (1338)? What plans does Medea have for her children (1378-1383)? for herself (1384-1385)? What does she predict for Jason (1386-1388)? What reason does Medea give for having killed her children (1398)? What comment does the Chorus make on the events of the play (1415-1419)?

5The murder of the children by Medea seems to have been an invention of Euripides. In other versions of the legend Medea does not murder her children. One version has Medea kill her children accidentally, while another has them killed by the Corinthians; yet another has Creon's kinsmen kill them in revenge for Creon's death and circulate a rumor that Medea had murdered them.

Table of Contents > Next Section: Euripides' Bacchae

 

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Global Glossary Terms
- Jason
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Creon
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Medea
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Euripides
- Aphrodite
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mechane

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