May 10, 2021

#08-081: Medea

long, narrow, brightly-colored theater poster in art deco style; a woman with a tiara and a partially-covered face stands at center, dagger in hand, with a dead woman lying at her feet. Words at the top read "Medee" and "Theatre de la Renaissance"; the name "Sarah Bernhardt" is written vertically down the right side
Sarah Bernhardt as Medea

Note: Medea, a renowned witch, takes revenge on her cheating husband by killing a rival, the rival's father--and her own children! There's never been a woman like this one.

Get Ready: What would be a suitable punish for a mother who kills her own children, just to upset her husband?

Jason was a hero. He had successfully quested for the "Golden Fleece" and come back to great honors. But he had needed the help of a mercurial woman named Medea, in exchange for which he married her. The version of the story by Euripides, called simply Medea, was performed more often in the 20th century than any other ancient Greek tragedy.

As the play opens, Medea is in a towering rage: despite her marriage to Jason and the birth of their two children, Jason has announced that he will marry Glauce, daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. Because Medea's native country is not a part of Greece, her status as a "barbarian" provides a loophole for Jason to be rid of her.

Creon announces that he will send Medea into exile. She begs for one day's delay, and Creon acquiesces. Jason explains to her that he couldn't pass up the chance to marry a Greek princess, but he'd like to meld the offspring of the two women into one family, keeping Medea as a mistress.

She reminds him of all she has done for him, including helping him slay a dragon and even killing her own brother, but Jason will not be moved. She makes a threaten: one day he will have as much cause to lament as she does now.

Encountering Aegeus, the king of Athens, she assists him with drugs to cure his infertility, and exacts from him a promise of refuge in Athens.

She then takes some golden robes, a gift to her from the sun god Helios--her grandfather--and impregnates them and a golden coronet with poison. She sends them as a gift to Glauce, who cannot resist putting them on immediately. As she burns from contact with the poison, her father, Creon, embraces her, and he, too, is killed.

Phase 1 complete, Medea moves on to Phase 2: stabbing to death the children she shares with Jason. This is not for any fault of the children, nor indeed because she wishes to be free of them, but simply to cause Jason maximum grief. She rushes offstage to do so, and we hear the children's screams of agony.

Medea next appears above the stage with the bodies of her children in the chariot of the sun, intending to bury them in holy ground as she escapes to Athens. Though her name has become a byword for the evil woman, the sun god's chariot indicates that the gods may just be on Medea's side.


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. byword
  2. coronet
  3. exacts
  4. impregnates
  5. infertility
  6. loophole
  7. meld
  8. mercurial
  9. offspring
  10. towering

  1. a way to evade a rule
  2. changeable; volatile
  3. saturates; soaks
  4. a small crown
  5. requires; demands
  6. children
  7. the inability to have children
  8. a typical expression
  9. excessive; beyond limits
  10. mix; blend

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for May 10, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. d; 3. e; 4. c; 5. g; 6. a; 7. j; 8. b; 9. f; 10. i