Euripedes’ Medea is known for its antiheroine, the mystic and murderer, Medea. In the play, Medea infamously murders her previous husband’s, Jason’s, new wife and the two children that Jason fathered. However, Medea only has one reason for these murders: revenge on Jason and Creon for changing her into a refugee. Interestingly, she brings new life to Aegeus when he offers her a new life in his kingdom. Medea, therefore, reciprocates what the men in the play place on her. The perceptions of Medea as a foreigner and woman and sorceress greatly affect how the men in Euripedes’ Medea treat the titular character. When Jason rejects her and Creon exiles her, Medea is unwelcome because she is foreign and underestimated because she is a woman. Conversely, when Aegeus welcomes her into his kingdom, Medea is welcomed because she is a sorceress.
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Before delving into how Jason rejects Medea, it is worth examining why he chose to reject her. In Medea, Jason strives to start a new life for himself and his sons as the future rulers of Corinth by allying himself with Creon through marriage to Creon’s daughter. However, he cannot be a future ruler of Corinth if the Corinthians do not perceive him as Corinthian. Consequently, Jason must distance himself from Colchis-born Medea, because xenophobic fear directed towards her could be redirected towards him. Medea’s existence is a threat to Jason’s rise to power.
Jason attempts to convince Medea to leave Corinth on her own accord through a series of false, albeit rational and kind, statements. However, he does not suspect that Medea would use this tactic against him. Jason knows Medea is an enchantress and a liar, but fails to recognize that she could be lying when she uses motherly affection as a disguise for her actual intentions. When Medea offers gifts to Jason’s new wife, he assumes that Medea had a change of heart; he rationalizes her change of heart because “it is…natural to the female sex to vent their spleen against a husband when he traffics in other marriages….” He does not suspect that the gifts are poisonous because she gives them to protect her children. Jason assumed that female, motherly instinct outweighs Medea’s constant rule of reciprocation. Furthermore, Jason assumed that Medea’s motherly instinct will keep his children safe, despite that the sons would be future heirs of Corinth if he married the princess.
Jason assumed incorrectly. Medea makes Jason pay for transgressions towards her because her foreignness by removing all ties that Jason could have to the crown and to a family. She murders his new wife and his children and his future.
Medea’s acts are cruel, but they are just. Jason, motivated by fear of being associated with a foreigner, committed the first act of cruelty. However, Jason could have gotten away with his xenophobic actions if he had questioned Medea’s actions; he failed to do this because Medea is a woman and therefore assumed incapable of causing harm to family. His fallacy offered a direct method for Medea to kill the princess and created a span of time for Medea to commit filicide. If Jason had chosen not to reject Medea because her foreignness, or if Jason had removed any chance Medea had to cause harm through earlier exile, incarceration, or death, Medea would not have been able to derail his future. His prejudices against Medea ironically result in his downfall and her success.
Similarly, Creon’s prejudices against Medea result in his own and his daughter’s death and her victory. He too attacks Medea because she is foreign and underestimates her because of her assumed maternal instinct. However, Creon’s xenophobic prejudices have a stronger effect on the play than Jason’s cautious distancing. Again, it is worth examining Creon’s intentions in the play to understand his xenophobia. Creon, King of Corinth, lacks a male heir. When Jason, a mighty hero, comes to Corinth, Creon sees a potential heir. The trouble is that Jason is foreign and married to a foreigner, and will therefore be perceived as a foreigner by the Corinthians. To combat these assumed assumptions, Creon chooses to exile Medea from Corinth.
Although the decision to remove Medea from Jason’s life is logical, the choice to exile reveals Creon’s xenophobic tendencies. Creon could have naturalized Medea to remove her foreignness or could have imprisoned or killed Medea to neutralize her as a threat forever. Instead, he chose to remove Medea from her new home, which essentially was a message to her that she did not belong in his or Jason’s kingdom. This exile looms over the play and gives Medea cause for revenge. Arguably, if Creon had not forced Medea to leave Corinth or had not forced Jason to marry his daughter so to become heir, the conflict in the play would not exist.
Creon’s decision to exile Medea was dangerous, and he was aware that Medea may seek her revenge. However, he makes the same mistake as Jason: Creon assumes Medea’s primary motivation is that of motherly instinct. He gives Medea a day to prepare her children for exile; in that day, Medea seizes the opportunity to kill her own children and Creon’s child. Creon, who witnesses his daughter’s death by poisoned and fiery garments, dies too when he throws himself on the flames as they consume her. The irony of his death is palpable. He exiled Medea so to grow his lineage through a male heir, but now he, his family, and his lineage is obliterated. Medea’s revenge is again fitting and complete.
It may appear at this point that Medea is only a vehicle of revenge. However, her interactions with Aegeus prove that Medea is a vehicle of reciprocation, and not simply revenge. This is proven through Aegeus’ treatment of Medea.
Aegeus, similarly to Creon, has the same motivation: Aegeus wants a male heir. However, Aegeus and his wife are unable to conceive by themselves, so Aegeus needs the help of a sorceress. Consequently, when Aegeus meets with Medea, he does not scorn her for being foreign and nor does he ridicule her for being a woman. He values Medea because she is capable. Furthermore, he values Medea’s thoughts and inquiries about her well-being. When he learns of Medea’s exile, he offers her a home in his kingdom. Most interestingly, Aegeus is the only man the only person in Medea who the titular character does not attempt to deceive. Aegeus respects, befriends, and aids Medea, and therefore Medea reciprocates.
At the end of the play, Aegeus leaves with a promise from Medea that she will help him have a child, and Medea flies to her new and protected home in Aegeus’ kingdom. Although it is not stated in the play, myths state that Medea was true to her word. Aegeus and Medea have a child, Medus, and Aegeus is the adoptive father of another great hero, Theseus. Creon’s and Jason’s family may have been destroyed, but fair Aegeus’ lineage continues.
Although Medea undoubtedly committed horrific acts, she was not alone in their creation. Nor was she entirely a villain. She is an equalizer. What treatment she was given, she returned in kind.
Given that Medea follows the law of reciprocation, the true catalyst in the play is the unfair action placed towards her. If Jason or Creon had chosen to stop the xenophobic prejudice towards Medea, she would not have acted. Furthermore, if Jason and Creon had given Medea the credit she deserved as a sorceress and have refrained from devaluing her because of her womanhood, then they could have avoided Medea’s reciprocation. Trouble does not come only when Medea is valued, welcomed, and respected; instead, Medea brings good to the benefactor. Perhaps this is the hidden warning that Euripedes hoped would be discovered through Medea: regard each other at their full value. Otherwise, be prepared to face the potential consequences of transgressions and underestimations.
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