The tragedy of Medea begins in medias res (in the middle of things). Medea's Nurse bemoans Medea's fate—she has been abandoned with her two young children by her husband, Jason, who has married the Princess, daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. In the midst of her lamentations, the Nurse recounts how Jason left his homeland, Iolocus, in a ship called the Argo to find a treasure called the Golden Fleece. The Golden Fleece was guarded by a dragon in Medea's homeland, the Island of Clochis. Aphrodite, goddess of love, made Medea fall in love with Jason and then help him to steal the Golden Fleece. While she and Jason were fleeing Clochis by boat, Medea killed her brother so that those pursuing them would have to stop and bury his body. In Iolocus, she and Jason hatched a plot to steal rulership from the king, Pelias. Medea managed to trick Pelias' daughters into killing him by promising that, if they did, she could restore him to his youth. She did not restore him, and Jason and Medea were chased from Iolocus to Corinth, where they lived as exiles.
Medea is infuriated by Jason's abandoning her and their children, and makes threats to kill Creon and the Princess. These threats reach Creon at the palace where the children's Tutor overhears that Creon intends to exile Medea from Corinth. He tells the Nurse what he heard outside Medea's house. The two promise not to tell Medea. The Nurse says she fears for the children and doesn't like the way Medea has been looking at them. She sends the children inside where, from offstage, Medea addresses them, saying she wishes they were dead and cries aloud in her grief. The Nurse and Tutor leave and the Chorus of Corinthian women assemble outside Medea's house, saying that it heard Medea cry. Medea comes out to speak to the Chorus of her troubles. Soon, the king, Creon, arrives to give Medea her sentence of banishment. He tells her he fears she will cause him and his daughter harm. She tries to convince him she is harmless, but he will not relent. Eventually she manages to get him to agree to give her a single day in which to plan where she and the children will go in their exile. When Creon is gone, Medea laughs at him and calls him a fool for allowing her to stay. She intends to punish Creon, the Princess, and Jason for the way they have mistreated her.
The region of Greece and the Aegean Sea is fragmented into steep mountains and valleys, as well as many small islands. Over the past centuries this has caused the populations here to form several hundred tiny city-states. The mountainous nature of the landscape has encouraged coastal Greek states to look out to sea. Many have sent out overseas colonies, so that Greek culture is now spread far and wide across the Mediterranean basin.
In the centuries since 1000 BCE, contact with Phoenician traders from Syria has led to the introduction of the alphabet, amongst other things.
Ancient Greece is now in the classical phase of its civilization. By 500 BCE, most Greek city-states have a republican form of government. Political life in these states is often unstable, and sometimes violent, but they allow a degree of freedom unknown in other lands. This has given rise to dramatic intellectual achievements which made Ancient Greek civilization one of the great civilizations of world history.
A few of these states have become the first democracies in history; the largest of these is Athens, soon to be one of the most famous centres of culture in the ancient world.
“There is much in Euripides’ plays that reflects the intellectual ferment of his day. From the beginning, he was linked to the new thinkers who were flooding Athens with radical ideas, in particular those philosophers, teachers of rhetoric, and “life coaches” known as Sophists, but also scientists and philosophers like Anaxagoras. Euripides’ plays are awash with advanced and sometimes controversial ideas; the ancient aristocrats of his dramas, and even their servants, are notoriously and anachronistically cognizant of the latest intellectual trends in philosophy and theology. Euripides found much he could adapt for his own purposes in contemporary speculations about the relationship between perception, language, and truth, between what is in the nature of things (physis) and what is mere convention (nomos). The Sophists’ fascination with argument—and winning through clever rhetoric in a contest of arguments—is reflected again and again in the opposition of rhetorically sophisticated speeches in Euripidean debate scenes. And yet, he was never simply carried along on contemporary intellectual currents , as one might suppose from Aristophanes’ parodies, with their suggestions of relativism and rejection of traditional beliefs....
“The social and political upheavals of Athens in the latter part of the fifth century also have a bearing on our understanding of Euripidean drama. With the exception of Alcestis, all the surviving dramas date from the period of the Peloponnesian War, which ended in ignominious defeat for Athens shortly after Euripides’ death. The Athens of Euripides’ first fifty years had played a crucial role in defeating the Persian Empire, and went on to perfect the characteristic institutions of the democracy and consolidate an Aegean empire. The war, which began in 431, led to a series of increasingly dangerous struggles, internal as well as external, that shook the confidence of the state, subjected its people to hardships, and eventually threatened the city's very existence. Over against the plays of Aeschylus, written at the peak of Athens’ post–Persian War glory and Periclean ambition, surviving Euripidean drama seems to suffer (or benefit) from yet another kind of belatedness.”
Euripides lived during Golden Age of Athens from 484 BCE—406 BCE. Euripides was a sophist, a philosopher who taught rhetoric in order to instruct people on how to live their lives. Read through this brief summary to learn more.
In this series from Getty, we learn all about witches from classical era, and this post focuses on Medea. Medea was related to the sun god Helios. She was a princess from Colchis, knowledgeable in herbs and plants, who evolved into a dark enchantress by Roman times. She is notorious for massacring her own sons in revenge for her husband Jason’s unfaithfulness. Read through this article to learn more about the history of the figure of Medea.
This video examines an Ancient Greek sarcophagus depicting the myth of Jason and Medea.
In Euripides' Medea, exile is a past reality, an impending threat, and an internal state. Read this article to learn more.
The tragedy of Medea is woven out of a series of deceitful, true-seeming monologues. Read this article to learn more.
The play is an exploration of the roles of men and women, both actual and ideal, but it is not necessarily an argument for sexual equality. Read this article to learn more.
Natural law—the idea of a moral code integral to and inseparable from whatever it is that makes us human—is tested in the events of Medea when characters make decisions contrary to their nature. Read this article to learn more.
The fundamental conflict between Medea and Jason is that she believes she has been faithfully devoted to him while he has not fulfilled his duties as a husband or as a man. Read this article to learn more.
Greek tragedy was a popular and influential form of drama performed in theatres across ancient Greece from the late 6th century BCE. The most famous playwrights of the genre were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and many of their works were still performed centuries after their initial premiere. Greek tragedy led to Greek comedy and, together, these genres formed the foundation upon which all modern theatre is based. Read this article to learn more.
This site includes images of a 3D reconstruction of a Greek Theatre.
This page is designed to provide a brief introduction to Ancient Greek Theatre, and to provide tools for further research.
The tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles followed strict structure and form, which was designed to effectively communicate not only the story of the play, but also the underlying moral to the audience. A typical ancient Greek tragedy consists of five essential sections, some of which are repeated as necessary to accommodate the plot. Read this article to learn more.
The Ancient Greeks took their entertainment very seriously and used drama as a way of investigating the world they lived in, and what it meant to be human. The three genres of drama were comedy, satyr plays, and most important of all, tragedy. Read this brief article to learn more.
This digitised book chapter examines the origins of theatre in the Western world, with a specific look into Greek theatre.
There are different terms for different parts of a Greek drama, some of which modern scholars took from Aristotle and other ancient drama critics. The typical structure of an Ancient Greek tragedy is a series of alternating dialogue and choral lyric sections. Read through this article to learn more.
The conventional theatre of Shakespeare ("Romeo and Juliet") or Oscar Wilde ("The Importance of Being Earnest") features discrete acts subdivided into scenes and casts of characters engaged in dialogue with one another. This easy to grasp structure and familiar format comes from ancient Greece, where drama originally had no individual speaking parts. Read through this article to learn more.
A new production of Medea opened at London’s National Theatre in 2014 to critical acclaim. This is a Medea definitively set in the modern era: the production opens with two little boys watching television snuggled in sleeping bags. Often when ancient plays are updated to a modern setting it can feel unsatisfactory. Frequently there are elements that grate or become implausible, and you’re left feeling that the director is trying too hard to make the play “relevant”. But in the case of Medea, the tragic action seems to fit today’s world as well as that of the mythological past. It speaks to our imaginations with incredible power. Read this article to learn more about this modern adaptation.
This Wikipedia article lists depictions of Medea throughout pop culture, including adaptations.
This article compares three different adaptations of Medea: Deborah Warner, Carrie Cracknell and Mike Bartlett.
Euripides' Medea is the most frequently performed Greek tragedy in contemporary theatre, with a new adaptation from Australian playwright Suzie Miller. This radio clip discusses this adaptation.
A tale of love, betrayal and murder is playing out in the Malibu hills this month. The Greek tragedy "Medea" has been rewritten for the modern age and set in Southern California. It involves a difficult border crossing, an isolated garment worker, her straying husband and, of course, vengeance. NPR's Jason DeRose reports. Available in audio clip or transcript.
In 2002, the Abbey Theatre of Ireland's acclaimed production of Euripides' Medea came to the University of Michigan. On October 18, 2002, a symposium about the play and the production convened in which distinguished scholars on the faculty of the university asked questions of the play's director, Deborah Warner, and the lead actress, Fiona Shaw.
Probably no other ancient play has been produced in modern times as often as Medea. Although it only won third place when it was first performed, it soon became popular, and was one of a set of ten plays by Euripides that were widely known from antiquity through the Middle Ages. Read this article to learn more about the play, its historical context, and some of its adaptations.
This study guide includes a summary of the text, a list of characters, and quizzes and essays to further your understanding.
The tragedy Medea was written in 431 BCE by Euripides (c. 484 – 407 BCE). Euripides authored at least 90 plays of which 19 have survived intact. As with the plays by Sophocles and Aeschylus, the audience was already well aware of the myth surrounding Jason and Medea. However, Euripides' version is slightly different, for she emerges not as a cold-blooded murderer but as a suffering mother, maligned by an unfaithful rogue of a husband. Although unpopular when it was first presented, Medea would influence both Seneca and Ovid to author their own versions of the myth. Read this article to learn more.
This study guide gives a thorough summary and analysis of the text, a breakdown of main themes (including an interactive visual breakdown of the themes), lists of quotes, character profiles and historical context.
“Medea” (Gr: “Medeia”) is a tragedy written by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, based on the myth of Jason and Medea, and particularly Medea’s revenge against Jason for betraying her with another woman. Read through this article to learn more about the play.
This website contains a translation of the play and background material on Medea including key concepts and character analysis.
A reader's guide that breaks down the play scene by scene.
Euripides was one of the great Athenian playwrights and poets of ancient Greece, known for the many tragedies he wrote, including Medea and The Bacchae.
Euripides was born in Athens, Greece, around 485 B.C. He became one of the best-known and most influential dramatists in classical Greek culture; of his 90 plays, 19 have survived. His most famous tragedies, which reinvent Greek myths and probe the darker side of human nature, include Medea, The Bacchae, Hippolytus, Alcestis and The Trojan Women. He died in Macedonia, Greece, in 406 B.C.
Read more at Biography.com
This radio adaptation of Medea runs for 1 hour 15 minutes.