It is often thought, particularly in modern productions of the play, that bitter and ultimately tragic quarrel between Medea and Jason mirrors contemporary concerns such as today’s gender issues. In this vein, Medea is the tragic rebel against oppressive and established custom while her husband is typical of the system of male domination contemporary feminists have fiercely resisted seeing in Medea a 4th century BCE raging feminist. For Blondell et al (1999), as an example, Medea’s ugly revenge is “the outcome of her plight as a woman in a patriarchal culture” (157) .They explain her behavior as characteristic of Greek social norms that have been violated at a time when “one’s gender, age, and status are essential determinants of who one is” (5). Similarly , Rabinowitz (1993) posited that the play was written to serve the state in defining gender rigidly showing how much of male and female behavior is socially constructed in Ancient Greece as it is in our own time. Thus Jason and Medea are more than themselves, but representative figures. In this way, “tragedy served the polis” (12). Margaret Visser thinks the specific issue of marriage was at issue, giving us a particularly good access to the questioning of institutions and the coming of new social practices.
Such views to be contested in my essay inevitably take the relationship of Jason and Medea as a way of studying social tensions involved in gender relations sanctioned by marriage wows. By contrast Bowman (2002) calls attention to special qualities of Medea and concludes: “Under these circumstances, it is folly to expect or see in the Medea a naturalistic representation of the lives, hopes, or innermost thoughts of real Athenian women (164). He is absolutely right. Jason has been given man y negative reviews in his failings by our own standards, in a quite recent comment, brutal but characteristic, he is a man “led by his penis, bored by his wife” (Raymond 1912). But then he was only a man behaving as man do over the years, talking trash. It must be admitted that, like most man attending the festival of Dionysius when the play was performed, had heard complaints from their wives formulated in similarly destructive intensity. There is, to begin with, that particular cunning men gave women over the years,
We forget though that Medea is not just any female however much in her speeches she evokes the plight of women in a man’s world and all the oppressive situations women of Athens face. It is Jason himself, having lost his hopes of being the future king of Corinth, a young bride set in flames by the gift of his first wife’s coat earning the wrath of Creon, his future father-in-law, and with his two sons dead, a future fleeing in a leaky boat ahead— after all that exclaims at the end of the play that no Greek woman would have behaved as Medea had. True, but Medea is no proto-feminist but of the gods, which is what this paper will now try to demonstrate.
Creon, a king, is taken in by Medea’s plea that she need attend to her children’s welfare and be allowed to stay another day and that against his misgiving. He does so, being human like the rest of us, and behaves as Jason does within the comforting cultural assumptions and male beliefs which last through the ages. Just go away, I will take care of you, and when I will gain a kingdom, “your” children will be well provided for, has been heard before and after ( Euripides lines 155-162). What else could Jason say? Of course, if we are to follow along the lines of current divorces, there is the marriage contract that had been violated, the children abandoned, a destitute wife and a former husband remarried, better off and having what he most prized as an outcast and refugee, a citizenship in Corinth. But at this point, Medea, daughter of the gods, possesses the coat that will set her rival on fire as well as all sorts of heavenly contacts, as it turns out. She is no “barbarian”, as Jason thinks, and some scholars assume, and it is more than a play about a dysfunctional relationship. Rather, it belongs to an experience we no longer have of gods among us in human shape, There was, in fact, no marriage as we understand it.
We are not speaking of a formal marriage but an oath overseen by Zeus himself pledging loyalty that was overseen by Medea’s parent, Helios the Sun, observing all as Griffiths (2006:76) explains. In the end, Helios provides the chariot which saves Medea from punishment, She appears first on high, in place of the gods, having killed Jason’s cast off and now valuable progeny. For an earthly mother to kill her off springs seems an abomination to humans, though it happens among the gods which explains what happens at the close of the play ( Euripides lines 1415-1419) when Jason raises his hands heavenward to witness Medea’s injustice that the chorus tells him how different the ways of gods are with the ways of men. It was, they say, nothing to do with marriage rites and their norms, but a violation of an oath which brought about the gods, having different values, to place the violation of divine honor above the institutions of men.
To be sure, earlier Medea had complained of her aloness, “no mother, no brother, no kinsman to shelter me from this calamity (Euripides 255-8).” At the end of the play, she has revenge for her hurt pride with Aigeus as a sponsor, her children who would now be a burden to her dead, Athens as her citizenship. By contrast, Jason has a leaky boat to flee from the wrath of Creon, both men now without an heir. That’s what you get messing with gods.
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- Euripides. “Medea” in Puchner, Martin, Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Wiebke Denecke, Vinay Dharwadker . The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 3rd ed. Volume 1 A. Print
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