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“Medea” by Euripides: Tragedy Outlook Essay

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Updated: Nov 28th, 2021

Introduction

The ultimate message, conveyed by Euripides’s tragedy “Medea” has been discussed from a variety of different perspectives; with most critics preferring to view Medea’s revenge on Jason as such that signified the strength of her resolution to address gender-based oppression. There is a certain rationale in this kind of suggestions – after all, Medea had gone about expressing her contempt with women’s lot on numerous occasions:

“The man who was everything to me,
my own husband, has turned out to be
the worst of men. This I know is true.
Of all things with life and understanding,
we women are the most unfortunate” (Euripides, 260).

Closer analysis

However, the closer analysis of motives, contained in Euripides’ tragedy, reveals the fact that, while proceeding with her plans to address Jason’s treachery, Medea was the least concerned with trying to appease her ego.

After having dealt with the experience of utter emotional distress, Medea became transfigured – the petty aspects of her ruined relationship with Jason had simply ceased to affect Media’s existential mode, with tragedy’s main character gradually assuming the posture of an unemotional enforcer of justice:

“Oh Zeus, and Justice, child of Zeus,
and flaming Helios—now, my friends,
we’ll triumph over all my enemies.
The plans I’ve made have been set in motion.
I’m confident my enemies will pay (Euripides, 910).

And, by doing it, Medea had proven herself to be more of a man than Jason, in the psychological context of this word, despite Jason’s pathetic attempts to rationalize his behavior logically. As it appears from tragedy’s context, Jason continued to remain a firm believer in his manliness, which is exactly why he thought that his seemingly logical argumentation would cause Medea to get back to her senses. Yet, unlike Medea, Jason had failed to realize that the notion of abstract justice serves as the metaphysical foundation for the concept of rationale – therefore, Jason’s logical appeals to Medea could not possibly have any effect, whatsoever. Being a woman, Medea was able to intuitively perceive Jason’s reasoning as utterly fallacious, even before he would open his mouth. Yet, it was not Medea’s emotional contempt with her former husband, which prompted her to consider subjecting him to the worst possible vengeance, but the fact that Jason had broken marital wows with her:

“The honour in an oath has gone.
And throughout wide Hellas
there’s no shame any more” (Euripides, 440).

The reason why people take oaths is to declare their willingness to address life’s challenges within a framework of law and order. Most human laws are exactly the laws because they correspond to the laws of nature. And, there is only one price for transgressing the laws of nature – death. For example, when a person tries to defy the physical law of gravity by jumping off the cliff without a parachute – he will inevitably fall and die. Therefore, the fact that Jason had broken up his oaths with such apparent ease can only have one possible explanation – Jason’s psyche has never been affiliated with the notions of law and order, in the first place. By betraying Medea, Jason has proven his inability to act like a man. We can say that figuratively speaking, he was nothing but a woman trapped inside a man’s body, which is why his relations with women could never last. Jason’s following words substantiate the validity of this suggestion:

“As for my children,
I want to raise them in the proper way,
one worthy of my house, to have brothers
for the children born from you” (Euripides, 560)

Ensuring the well-being of his children constituted Jason’s foremost existential priority. However, it is only if he was born a woman that such his stance would make sense. Alternatively, despite being a beautiful woman, Medea never ceased perceiving objective reality through the lenses of rationale, which is exactly the reason why Jason’s infidelity was taken by her as the ultimate proof of his existential worthlessness. It is namely the sheer strength of Medea’s intellectual integrity, which provides us with the insight on why she tended to articulate her grievances in an absolutely logical manner:

“I have no city, and I’m being abused
by my own husband. I was carried off,
a trophy from a barbarian country.
I have no mother, brother, or relation,
to shelter with in this extremity” (Euripides, 300).

Moreover, such her tendency also explains how Medea was able to step over her emotional weaknesses, to enforce justice – unlike Jason; she was endowed with inborn respect towards masculine values:

“Let no one think that I’m a trivial woman,
a feeble one who sits there passively.
No, I’m a different sort—dangerous
to enemies, but well disposed to friends” (Euripides, 960)

Medea was well aware of the fact that when the issue of protecting justice is being at stake, all other considerations become secondary. In its turn, this reveals Medea as being an utterly idealistic individual, who continuously sought the higher purpose in life, which again strengthens our thesis as to Medea’s psychological manliness. Whereas, at the beginning of a tragedy, Medea appears to be completely overtaken by her grief, while going as far as contemplating suicide, by the end of the play she transcends over her emotional anxieties – thus, proving the sheer strength of its analytical abilities.

It appears that, unlike Jason, Medea was able to detach herself from her own emotions when circumstances required, which can be thought of as yet another proof as to this character’s existential manliness, simply because it is men who are assumed capable of choosing in favor of acting “as necessary” while being tempted with the prospect of acting “as it feels like”. Even though Medea resisted the idea of killing its children to the very last, she nevertheless decided to proceed with such her intention. And, it is the only masculine mind that is capable of recognizing this Medea’s decision as being logical – after all, children can be made easily, but there is no point in having children in the world where there is no justice:

“I’ll never deliver up my children,
hand them over to their enemies,
to be humiliated. They must die—
that’s unavoidable, no matter what” (Euripides, 1250).

Whereas in this particular Euripide’s tragedy, Jason is being presented as a down-to-earth individual, who could not possibly be concerned about anything but enjoying a secure and comfortable life, Medea’s foremost agenda appears to be nothing short of protecting the First Law of Thermodynamics, which implies that people’s activities cannot be thought of as “thing in itself” – the essence of individual’s every deed can only be discussed within a context of consequences, such deed had brought about. If Jason’s infidelity was left unpunished, it would violate the laws of nature. Therefore, the fact that Medea had decided to destroy Jason’s life in return for her life being destroyed, did not only make perfectly logical but also moral sense. She did something she was ought to do, which explains why Medea did not experience much guilt for killing her children:

“O my children,
victims of your father’s evil actions!” (Euripides, 1620).

Being a weak-minded individual, Jason could not understand the full scope of its wickedness. However, this did not make his wickedness less acute. Nowadays, governmental bureaucrats often go about destroying people’s lives with the single stroke of their pens, while expecting affected individuals to swallow the “its nothing personal” type of justification for such behavior. Similarly, Jason strived to justify his infidelity to Medea by suggesting that by dumping her, he was being driven exclusively by considerations of their children’s well-being. Yet, Medea was not quite as gullible as he thought she was. Since Jason’s behavior had resulted in her life being utterly destroyed, she decided to pay him back with the same token of respect, while being the least concerned about listening to how Jason would try to justify his wickedness. And, by doing it, she had proven herself a truly admirable individual, because it is only intellectually and spiritually refined individuals who are being perfectly aware that evil cannot be left unpunished.

Conclusion

The foremost conclusion of this paper can be formulated as follows: Despite Medea’s gender affiliation, she had proven herself to be a much more rational, responsible, and intelligent human being, as compared to tragedy’s male characters. Moreover, unlike Jason, Aegeus, and Creon, she possessed an inner psychological strength, which is why Medea was able to achieve its ultimate goal of making sure that no enemies would laugh at her after she had left for Athens.

Bibliography:

Euripides “Medea”. 2009. Vancouver Island University.

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