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Differences in the Context: Seneca, Medea & Euripides, Medea Essay

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Updated: Oct 16th, 2021

The story of Medea will always stand apart from other women stories as it was a woman who married for love, who adored her husband but then killed her own children. Of course at once there arises question why she did it and what pushed her to commit such a terrible crime which deserves punishment not on the part of law but on the part of a woman herself. Her image is an issue of wide discussion for feminists and a mystery for people who just come across the myth about her. There exist a lot of interpretations of the myth about Medea. They all seem to be the same at the first sight but in fact even a slight difference changes the whole meaning of this woman’s life.

Medea of Seneca’s Medea and Medea of Euripides’ Medea have some evident differences though both the poets retell the same story. Nevertheless, each of them adds something new starting from the main events the story consists of and ending with changing the Medea’s personality as such. As for the general differences between Seneca’s and Euripides’s Medeas one of the first to note is the wedding of Jason and Creusa. Seneca describes the wedding in details and on this stage Medea already hates Creusa and Jason and starts thinking over her plans to take the revenge whereas in Euripides’s Medea the scene with the wedding is absent and the play begins when the wedding is already over and Medea is suffering and asking Gods for help. One more difference is that in Seneca’s Medea Jason leaves Medea with children and marries Creusa but in Euripides’s story he is forced to marry her and does that because he has no other choice. The presentation of Medea and her personality is one of the most important differences between Seneca’s and Euripides’s works.

There exists an idea that Seneca wrote his “Medea” relying upon Ovid’s work and this is why taking after him he presented Medea as an evil witch who is practicing some spells all the time. Medea indeed was a goddess and had a witch power. She was the granddaughter of Helius, the Sun god, this is why her ability to do charms was a part of her essence. Euripides does not deny Medea’s divinity and the fact that she was a witch. In his story she also has a divine origin but he does not pay so much attention to it. While Seneca resorts to descriptions of how Medea was using her charms in details in Euripides’s version Medea is more of a human and more of a woman. Moreover, he does not try to represent her as an evil witch doing harm to people. On the contrary, she is presented as a woman who can heal and who can bring other people to life whereas in Seneca’s story Medea is portrayed as a woman who is seeking revenge all the time and uses her magical powers for the revenge. By the way, this is where contradictory themes arise. Medea, having a gift to return life to other people is killing her children, in other words she, having an ability to give lives she takes them away.

Another vivid difference is the characterization of Medea at the beginning of each story and throughout the stories as well. Euripides does not start the poem with Medea telling about what happened with her but with a Nurse laying out the details of Medea’s story. Thus not making Medea the central figure at the beginning he turns more attention to her as the events start developing. Besides, with the Nurse telling the story Euripides represents Medea as a victim, as a woman who loved her husband but who betrayed her by marrying another woman. With this the poet evokes compassion and tries to win the reader’s disposal which further would be changed into indignation and hatred when Medea will be killing her children. In contrast, Seneca represents Medea from the very beginning not as a woman who experiences the biggest tragedy in her life, but as the one who blindly hates her husband and the father of his new wife and is building her plans to take the revenge and to punish them all for hurting her. Seneca shows Medea’s hatred at once and lets everybody see how evil she is and how strong is her desire to respond to evil with doing evil back.

One more difference is in organization of the story as such regarding representation of the facts. Seneca gives the story of Medea’s life just enumerating the events which happened with her. At this he gives the poem emotional coloring by portraying Medea as an evil witch and as a woman who is angry with the whole world by treating her so badly and who is seeking revenge and ends up killing her children thus he represents her as a negative heroine from the very beginning. Euripides, on the contrary does not just describe Medea’s life but tries to understand and take guilt off her by reasoning what happened with her and why and what she has to do next. He states that Medea killed her children not intentionally but because of the anger she was obsessed with like a lot of other mythical characters. In his version there is also an idea that she tried to give to her children immortality but her charms let her down and she killed them whereas Seneca’s version has a clear description of how Medea kills one of her sons with her husband looking at this.

Medea is described as a victim by Euripides and as a victimizer by Seneca. Being the heroine of Seneca’s story Medea definitely lacks humanity and ability to forgive as well as common sense. She also does not have qualities which each woman is supposed to have, mercy and love for her children being among them. There is no doubt that any woman would prefer to sacrifice her own life in order to save her children and none of the women of the world would think of killing her children in order to show her husband how much she is angry with him. What Euripides’s heroine lacks is the strong will. The mystery of woman’s character lies in the fact that being a tender wife and a loving mother of her children she is very endurable emotionally and is able to cope with such problems by facing which men would never know what to do. By her complaining about her destiny Euripides’s Medea surely awakes pity and compassion but this is not what in her situation a woman should do. It is worth mentioning that Medeas from Euripides’s and Seneca’s versions area great example of going to extremes. The one portrayed by Euripides is whining and complaining about what happened to her whereas the one portrayed by Seneca does not seem to care about the fact that her husband left her all alone with children because she is blinded by anger and desire to take revenge. It seems that Medea who would be able to balance between two of these would be an example of a perfect woman who would have taken revenge on her husband not with killing her children to show her anger but in another reasonable and worthy way.

To sum it up, having some differences in the context Medea, the one by Seneca and the other by Euripides tells the story of a woman who stood up for her rights and who did not want to share the destines of other women who were abandoned by their husbands. Before the Feminists Movement started Medea caused nothing but aversion in hearts of people because this is what woman who dared to kill her children just to make her husband suffer deserves. Becoming the subject of feminists’ discussion Medea’s story acquires new meaning which is the meaning of fighting for one’s own rights. Her story has a significant educational value of both how to fight for the rights and what it can lead to if one gets too much involved in this. Medea, Seneca’s and Euripides’s, was an example of womanhood before the essence of her womanhood, her pride, suffered from the husband’s betrayal which proves that for a woman to be perfect her husband should treat her in a way she would want to be perfect for him.

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