EURIPIDES (ca. 480–406 B.C.), son of Mnesarchos, of the Deme of Phlya in Athens; and of Klito (a shopkeeper and greengrocer–according to a hostile and doubtful tradition). Euripides had an estate on the island of Salamis. He held a local priesthood of Zeus at Phlya, and once served as ambassador to Syracuse in Sicily. He had three sons.

Euripides first produced a play in 455 B. C. (winning Third Prize), and first won First Prize in 441. He won a total of only five victories, one victory being posthumous ( Bacchai ). His total output is said to have been 92 plays. He was the most popular of the Athenian tragedians. In 408 or 407 he left Athens and went to Macedonia at the invitation of King Archelaus, where he died in 406. He was buried at Arethusa in Macedonia.

The Medea was first produced in Athens in 431 B.C., the year after the great war began between Athens and Sparta (II Peloponnesian War). It only won Third Prize.


  • The Nurse of Medea tells the story of Jason and Medea in Colchis, love and murders. Now Medea hates Jason, however, because he is leaving her for the Princess of Corinth. Medea is remorseful and vengeful.
  • The Tutor to the children of Medea and Jason brings the children in, and relates the bad news that King Creon of Corinth intends to send Medea into exile along with the children. The Nurse fears what Medea might do and plans to keep the children away from her. Medea's voice is heard, lamenting her situation. The Nurse speaks about the value of moderation.


Chorus (Corinthian Women) inquires of the Nurse about Medea's `mood'. Medea is heard lamenting and begging for death, then threatening vengeance, then suicide. The chorus consoles her and advises caution. The Nurse describes Medea's fierce character, and speaks of the sadness of life and the soothing power of music.


  • Medea enters, and recounts her problems, especially that she is an alien. She also speaks of the problems of married women in general. She speaks of vengeance.
  • King Creon orders Medea to leave Corinth forthwith. He fears her powers. She cunningly minimizes her power, swears that she will keep the peace, and asks to be allowed to stay. When the King refuses, she uses the argument of parent and child to get him to give her at least another 24 hours. When she is alone, Medea reveals to the Chorus that she got the extra day to accomplish vengeance, through her powers, on her enemies.


Rapid change in the world, with destruction of old standards. Woman's place in society is gaining importance. Medea is an independent and vital person.


Jason and Medea confront each other. Jason claims that Medea is bringing all her problems on herself. He offers her financial support in her exile, but advises her to keep quiet. Medea attacks Jason and his motives: the divorce is unjust, and a homeless woman with children in a strange land will be a terrible life to live. She insists she helped Jason for selfless motives. Jason attempts to refute her claims, blaming everything on Aphrodite (Love/Lust), and saying that everything he is doing (including especially the new marriage) is for the benefit of Medea and the children. Medea objects that he married the Princess secretly, and that he just wanted a younger woman who could help his ambitions. She refuses his finacial settlement, and he departs.


Love without control does harm. Moderation is best, above all in love. It is terrible to be an exile from one's native land.


King Aegeus of Athens (future father of Theseus), who is passing through Corinth from Delphi to Troezen, greets Medea. She explains she is about to be exiled and asks for refuge in Athens. She promises Aegeus help in producing a child, in exchange for an oath that he will never expel her from Athens or turn her over to her enemies. After Aegeus departs, the thought of children helps Medea to fix her plan for revenge--to destroy Jason's hopes of children and a family. She will pretend to be reconciled to her situation, but will send (poisoned) gifts to the Princess by the hands of Jason's children. Then she wil kill the children.


Praise of Athens. Athens is blessed. But how can Athens accept a murderess, one who has killed her own children? How could a mother do such a thing?


Jason visits Medea again. She begs forgiveness (though deceitfully) for what she only recently said to him, pretending that she `understands'. He is delighted. She asks him to talk to King Creon and get permission for the children to stay in Corinth. She sends gifts to Jason's new wife by way of the children--a poisoned crown and a robe.


Pity for the children and Medea, for the children who will be part of Medea's murderous plans, for Medea who will commit murder.


The Tutor announces that the decree of banishment will not be imposed on the children. Medea, however, is in a quandary: whether love of her children is more important, or the desire to punish Jason by killing them. Her resolve weakens, motherly love exerts itself. But finally her hatred wins out.


It is rare for a woman to be wise. People without children avoid cares; children do not always fill parental expectations.


  • The Messenger Speech: The death of the Princess and then of King Creon is described to Medea and the Chorus; she gloats, then rushes inside to kill her children. The sound of their cries reaches the audience.
  • Jason enters, expecting to rescue his children from the citizens of Corinth, who are angry at the role they played in the death of the Royal Family. Medea appears, above the stage in a chariot drawn by dragons (Deus ex machina), with the bodies of the children. Jason asks for the bodies, in order to bury them, but he is refused. Medea predicts Jason's future and death, leaving him a broken man. She flies off to Athens.


  • Medea's character: benevolent? capacity to love? self-deceptive? wild/barbarian? quality of her intelligence? Why does King Creon fear Medea?
  • Medea's will: When does she decide to destroy the children? Is the Nurse just imagining things in the opening scene, or is there something about Medea which gives her grounds to fear? Why does Medea hesitate? Or does she really? Why does she hesitate?
  • Jason and Medea: love? Once, in the past? Now? Or just passion? Self-interest?
  • Jason's character: What of his motives, expressed in the speech in Episode II? Is he sincere? A cad? A cheap lawyer (no offense intended)?
  • What do you make of the nature of Medea's revenge? Appropriate? Immoderate? Why must the children die? Does she take pleasure in the deeds?
  • Chorus: Whom do they favor? What do they understand of things and motives?



January 28, 2010 11:11 AM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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