Medea/Study Guide/Walsh/English 9/2008 1
Euripides's Medea (431 B.C.) is a play written about Medea, a sorceress and priestess of Queen
Hecate, goddess of the underworld and magical powers. Medea is from the land of Colchis of which
her father, Aeetes, is the king. His father is Helios, the sun god. Jason is from the far away land of
Iolchos. Jason’s uncle Pelias assumes the throne, and Chiron, a centaur, raises Jason. Upon Jason’s
return to Iolchus, Pelias agrees to step down as king if Jason can obtain the Golden Fleece. The
Golden Fleece is believed to have magical powers. A dragon then protects the fleece.
Jason gathers a group of men to accompany him on the ship Argo; they, Jason and the Argonauts, set
off for the land of Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Hera guides Jason throughout the journey.
Jason and his crew face many challenges on the way, but eventually reach the island. Hera uses
Aphrodite to make Medea fall in love with Jason. Medea agrees to help Jason recover the Golden
Fleece from her father, if Jason will marry her.
Medea starts her violent path by murdering her brother Apsyrtus, in order to ensure Jason’s
success by dismembering her own brother just to slow down her father’s pursuit – shows
Medea’s total dedication to Jason.
Jason and his new wife, Medea returns to Iolchos. Medea convinces Pelias’ daughters to chop
him up and boil him in a magic poison in order to make him young again. Of course, the magic
does not work.
The citizens of Iolchus send Jason and Medea out of their city. Jason and Medea (a foreigner)
flee to Corinth.
The play begins after they move to Corinth and have two children.
There in Corinth Jason falls in love with the local princess, whose status in the city will bring Jason
financial security. He marries her without telling Medea. Medea takes revenge by killing the new bride
and her father, the King of Corinth. In one of literature's most intensely emotional scenes, Medea
debates with herself whether to spare her children for her own love's sake or to kill them in order to
punish her husband completely. A chorus of Corinthian women sympathizes with Medea, but attempt
to discourage her from acting on her anger. However, her need for revenge overpowers her love for her
children, and she ruthlessly kills them. Medea has withstood the test of time to become one of the great
tragedies of classical Greece.
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Courageous, powerful, and reckless, Medea left her father's home without his blessing to accompany Jason to
the land of Corinth, after using her magic powers to slay the dragon that guarded the golden fleece. She also
killed her own brother to slow Jason's pursuers. A foreigner to Corinth, Medea nevertheless found favor with
the Corinthians and all of Hellas because of her cleverness. For a while she and Jason were in harmony and
her life with him and their two sons was blissful. However, when Jason takes as wife the daughter of Creon,
king of Corinth, Medea is both grief-stricken at her loss and rage-filled at Jason's betrayal. As her nurse
explains during the prologue, "she'll not stop raging until she has struck at someone" and the fact that
Medea now says she hates the sight of her own children by Jason leads the nurse to fear for them.
Alone in a foreign land, rejected by her beloved husband, and unable to return to her homeland, Medea goes
mad, going to great extremes in planning her revenge for Jason's infidelity. When faced with their presence,
Medea spends a few moments debating the wisdom of murdering those she loves, yet her desire for revenge
fully outweighs her mother's heart. Even after she has accomplished the deed her rage outstrips her better
nature, for she will not allow Jason to bury or even kiss the children farewell. She claims that the price she has
paid is worth the harm she has caused Jason.
Aegeus, King of Athens
Aegeus, with his dilemma of childlessness, reinforces the importance of children (heirs) to royal leaders,
making doubly hurtful Jason's loss. Aegeus follows the conventional means of solving his
problem—consulting an oracle for advice. Aegeus is obviously a kind man. He recognizes that Medea is
unhappy and asks polite questions; then gives her his complete sympathy. His accepting attitude toward
Medea and his offer to give her shelter in his city elevate her in the eyes of the audience. His refusal to help
her travel to Athens because it would offend his allies shows that he is a careful leader—it also reinforces the
danger of Medea's situation.
The attendant dialogues with the nurse in the opening scene to further reveal the nature of Jason's break with
his wife. The attendant also displays the cynical attitude for which Euripides was known— rebuking the nurse
that every man cares for himself first and for others when it profits himself, only rarely from honest motives.
Chorus of Corinthian Women
The chorus of Corinthian women at first shows a great deal of sympathy for Medea, who is rejected by her
heroic husband for the young princess of Corinth. But at the same time, the chorus honors the laws of its city
and therefore tries to persuade Medea to control her anger. Occasionally the leader of the chorus interacts with
the players, as when the leader criticizes Jason, telling him that he has in fact sinned against his wife. When
Medea seems at last determined to kill her children, the chorus pleads with her, suggesting that she will not be
able to look upon their faces and do the deed.
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Creon is King of Corinth and father to Creusa, whose marriage to Jason so infuriates Medea. Creon is well
aware of Medea's bloody reputation; fearing that Medea might, in her rage, harm Creusa, he bans the rejected
woman. A soft heart causes the King to allow Medea into the city for one day. His love for his daughter brings
about his own death. Creon is portrayed as a weak, indecisive man whom Medea easily persuades to allow her
another day in Corinth— a day that proves fatal to Creon. He is also ambivalent at his daughter's corpse, first
saying he wants to die with her, yet when her poisoned garment ensnares him, he struggles to escape.
Jason, the Argonaut who retrieved the golden fleece, was a well-known character to Athenian audiences and a
significant hero in Greek mythology. However, Euripides's portrayal casts him in a rather negative light.
Medea catches him lying when he tells her he is marrying the princess simply to increase their fortune, and he
never accepts responsibility for his new love. Medea has a valid complaint, yet Jason attributes her
anger to a' 'stubborn temper" and blames her banishment on her inability to submit to Creon's will. Jason is
made even less sympathetic when he minimizes Medea's role in helping him obtain the golden fleece (a feat
that involved killing her own brother so that Jason could escape) and suggesting that Medea is merely jealous
and not legitimately hurt. Jason almost deserves the punishment Medea serves him.
The messenger has only one scene to act—he delivers to Medea the news that her gifts smeared with poison
have had their desired effect on Creusa and Creon. His is a storytelling role and he is given gruesome details
to spin out to Medea's delight.
The Nurse opens the play with her prologue, reciting Medea's reasons for rage and grief and generally
providing a sympathetic first appraisal of her mistress. She also warns of Medea's "wildness and bitter nature,"
saying that she fears some harm will come to the children Medea now claims to hate. The nurse herself
demonstrates more resolve; she catches herself cursing Jason and stops herself because he is still her master.
Sons of Medea and Jason
Medea and Jason's two sons participate in only four scenes, but the entire action of the play revolves around
Them. They appear initially with their attendant, immediately drawing audience sympathy, and are
sent inside by the nurse to protect them from their raging mother. When they innocently bear Medea's gifts to
the princess, they garner even more audience sympathy because she at first becomes irritated at the sight of
them. Later their sweet smiles cause Medea to pause in her resolve to kill them
Medea/Study Guide/Walsh/English 9/2008 4
The Chorus functions in a similar way to choruses in almost every other Classical Greek play.
A group of individuals speaks with one voice, one attitude and one belief as a representation
of community or society. In general, a Greek chorus offered commentary on the action,
illuminated the play’s themes, acted as confidantes to the central characters or a combination
of any or all of these practices.
In Medea, the Chorus of Corinthian Women performs all of these functions. They watch from
the sidelines and interject comments on the behavior of the characters. They offer thematic
enlightenment. Most importantly, they empathize with Medea’s situation; their comments
personify (represent) one of the play’s primary themes: the injustice of the behavior of men
towards their wives.
The parados is chanted by the chorus along with the Nurse and Medea. (A parados is a song
sung by a Greek chorus as it first enters the theater)
A song of the chorus, continued without the interruption of dialogue
A part of a choral ode; movement of chorus while singing a strophe (Classical Greek Drama)
A chorus in a Greek ode
STUDY QUESTIONS for reading, comprehension and
Before Medea’s house in Corinth, near the palace of CREON. The Nurse enters from the
Prologue (p. 5-9): Nurse, Attendant, and Medea
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1. What is the purpose of the Nurse’s speech? (p. 5-6)
2. According to the Nurse, why did Medea sail with Jason to Greece from her home
in Colchis? (p.5)
3. What did Medea do upon arriving in Greece at Iolchus? (p.5)
4. What is the present situation in Corinth? (p.5)
5. What is Medea’s attitude toward her children and what does the Nurse fear she
might do? (p.6)
6. What rumor has the Attendant heard? (p.7)
7. What is the Nurse’s view of Jason’s behavior? The attendant’s view? (p.8)
8. What feelings does Medea herself express? (p.8)
9. What moral or message does the Nurse draw from the situation? (p.9) (moderation
in all things and in all feelings is best for everyone, while arrogance, anger brings
Parados (p. 9-13) – Chorus (Leader), Medea, and Nurse
1. How does the Chorus of Corinthian women feel toward Medea? (p.9-10)
Creon approaches –
First Episode (p. 13-18) – Chorus (Leader), Medea, and Nurse
1. How does Medea view her situation in Corinth? Her situation as a married woman
and mother? As a foreigner?
2. What request does Medea make of the Chorus?
3. What order does Creon give to Medea?
4. Why does he do this?
5. How does Medea reply to Creon’s concerns?
6. How does Creon react to Medea’s reply?
7. What request does Medea make of Creon?
8. What appeal does she make in support of her request?
9. What is Creon’s reaction to her request?
10. After Creon’s departure, how does Medea explain her behavior?
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11. What does Medea intend to do?
12. What problem is a concern to Medea?
13. How determined is Medea to put her plan into action?
14. What is Medea’s motivation?
15. Medea’s reference to her planning and contriving would remind the audience of the
meaning of the name Medea “cunning contriver”.
16. Her mention of her grandfather Helios, the sun god, calls attention to her divine
17. What is Medea’s view of women?
First Stasimon* (p. 18-19)
1. What is the reaction to the last two lines of Medea’s speech? (p.18) “Thou hast
cunning; and, more than this, we women…”
2. What answer does the Chorus give to the ancient poets’ depiction of female
3. What is their view of Medea’s situation?
4. To what is the Chorus referring when they mention the lack of respect for oaths
and of shame in Greece?
Jason enters alone. Medea comes out of the house –
Second Episode (p. 19-24) – Jason, Chorus, and Medea
1. What criticism does Jason make of Medea?
2. What does he intend to do for her and his children?
3. What answer does Medea give to Jason’s offer?
4. What had Medea done for Jason?
5. What accusation does Medea make against Jason?
6. What is Medea’s predicament?
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7. What is Jason’s view of why Medea had helped him?
8. According to Jason what advantages did Medea derive from coming to Greece
9. What are the reasons that Jason gives for marrying the Corinthian princess?
10. What criticism does Jason make of women in general?
11. What criticism does Medea make of Jason’s arguments?
12. What help does Jason offer Medea?
13. What is Medea’s reaction to this offer?
Second Stasimon (p. 24-25)
1. What view of love (“Cypris/Cyprian” – Aphrodite) does the Chorus present in the
2. What prayer does the Chorus make in reference to Cypris in the second stanza?
3. To whom is the Chorus referring in the third and fourth stanzas?
Aegeus and his attendants enter-
Third Episode (p. 25-32) – Aegeus, Medea, and Chorus
1. What question did Aegeus ask of the Delphic Oracle?
2. What was the oracle’s answer?
3. What request does Medea make of Aegeus?
4. What does Medea offer to do in return for Aegeus?
5. What is Aegeus’ reply?
6. What is the only condition under which Aegeus will receive Medea into his land
7. What does Medea require Aegeus to do? Why?
8. What is Aegeus’ reaction to this requirement?
9. By whom does Medea make Aegeus swear?
10. After Aegeus’ departure why does Medea rejoice?
11. What will Medea do now with regard to Jason’s intended bride?
12. What does she plan to do next?
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13. What will she achieve through this action?
14. What is her motivation in this action?
15. What at this point in the play has Medea decided on this form of revenge?
Third Stasimon (p. 32-33)
1. What has occasioned this choral ode in praise of Athens (“descendants of
Erechtheus” – Athenians)?
2. What does the Chorus specifically praise in reference to Athens?
3. What does the Chorus ask Medea in the second half of the ode/stanza?
Fourth Episode (p. 33-37) – Jason, Medea, and Chorus
1. What general attitude does Medea now present to Jason?
2. What is Jason’s reaction to Medea’s apparent change of mind?
3. How are these lines ironic? (p. 35) “And for you, my sons, hath your father
provided with all good heed a sure refuge, by God’s grace; for ye, I trow, shall with
your brothers share hereafter the foremost rank in this Corinthian realm. Only grow
up, … May I see you reach man’s full estate, high o’er heads of those I hate!”
4. What does Medea want Jason to do?
5. How does Medea suggest Jason should go about this?
6. What will Medea do to help Jason in this endeavor?
7. What does Jason think of this help?
Fourth Stasimon (p. 37-38)
1. What does the Chorus predict for Jason’s intended bride, Jason, and Medea?
Attendant enters with the children -
Fifth Episode (p. 38-45)
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1. What news does the Messenger report to Medea?
2. What is Medea’s reaction to this news?
3. Why does she react in this way?
4. What reasons does Medea give why she should kill her children?
5. Explain how Medea is unsure with regard to what she is considering?
6. What is the Chorus’s view of the parent-child relationship?
7. The Messenger reports the deaths of the princess and Creon himself to Medea.
How are their deaths accomplished?
8. What general comments does the Messenger make on what has just happened?
9. What does Medea intend to do now?
Medea enters the house-
Fifth Stasimon (p. 45-46)
1. What prayer does the Chorus make to the gods of earth and sn?
2. What warning does the Chorus give to Medea?
Enter Jason, running in – breathless -
Exodos (p. 47-52) Jason, Chorus, and Medea
1. What concern does Jason express upon hearing of his children’s deaths?
2. According to Jason, why did Medea kill her children?
3. What plans does Medea have for her children? For herself?
4. What does she predict for Jason?
5. What reason does Medea give for having killed her children?
6. What comment does the Chorus make on the events of the play?
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