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Passion and Revenge Medea’s Curse

March 24, 2013
Painting of Medea by A Frederick Sandys

Painting of Medea by A Frederick Sandys

I took the opportunity today to go to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see one of my favourite paintings Medea by A. Frederick Sandys. Looking at the picture brought back some thoughts that I had about the character which prompted this post. If you are ever in Birmingham I would recommend going to see it, the piece is excellent (unfortunately my photo does not do it justice).

The figure of Medea summons a demonic image to some and a symbol of feminism to others. Within the study of this iconic woman the opinion of scholars tends to vary considerably (I can recommend a number of books if you would like to undertake such comparisons). In my study of this fascinating mythical character I have developed a certain empathy with her as she gave up so much for a man who turned his back on her. Jason pledges his love for Medea in the Argonautica ‘in our lawful marriage-chamber you shall share my bed, and nothing will separate us in our love until the appointed death enshrouds us’ (Apollonius, Argonautica 1126-8). Jason does not keep this oath instead he abandons her in order to follow his own ambitions. In considering Jason’s betrayal I agree with the viewpoint of Easterling (2003:190) who observes that Medea gave up everything for Jason and received ingratitude, abandonment and betrayal in return. This, in part, provoked her to murder their children and become, as Rehm (1994:106) sees her, the ‘crazed warrior’ de-humanised as a result of her actions. The language within the play suggests such a de-humanisation, for example Jason calls her a ‘loathsome creature’ (Euripides Medea 1325). However, I believe that Medea shows, even after undertaking such an awful act, that she is a woman and mother, as she takes the bodies of her children with her to bury ensuring their safety from harm in death. I would like to conclude on the viewpoint of Costa (1973:9), Medea is ‘a woman who has done much wrong and loved not wisely; but she has a claim to sympathy, and a case, and the play is fundamentally an exploration of this case’.


Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica Hunter, R. (ed) (Oxford: Oxford University Press

Euripides, Medea Morwood, J. (Oxford: Oxfrord Univeristy Press 1998)

Seneca, Medea Costa, C.D.N. (ed) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973)

Easterling, P. ‘The Infanticide in Euripides’ Medea’ in Mossman, J. (Ed) Euripides
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) pp. 187 – 200

Rehm, R. Marriage to death : the conflation of wedding and funeral rituals in Greek
tragedy (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1994)


From → Greek Tragedy

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  1. Medea, opera in London | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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