“Medea” by Euripides

Medea by Henri Klagmann, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy

Despair, Anger and Hatred

“Anger arises from offences against oneself, enmity may arise …because of what we take to be their character. Anger is accompanied by pain, hatred is not;… for the one would have the offenders suffer for what they have done; the other would have them cease to exist.”
–Aristotle in “Rhetoric

Medea,  princess of Colchis and granddaughter of Helios, was both angry and hateful toward her husband Jason, who dishonored her by deserting her and their two children and marrying another woman, after he had sworn a solemn oath to her, and she had left her father, home and country to be with him. In revenge, she not only murdered Jason’s bride and the bride’s father by a cunning scheme, but also killed her own two children, for she knew that it would make him suffer the most, though she herself was also pained.

By killing Jason’s bride and two children, Medea made him suffer for what he had done to her, he would feel the pain of losing everything and the only thing that he cared for — for her the love of her husband and the honor and integrity their marital union, for him the advancement and security of his political status; Not only that, he would have no children to build his fame and continue his line, nor any chance of begetting others since his bride was dead. He, “the basest of men”, would live to suffer, and yet cease to exist.

There is a precedent in Greek mythology. Procne, princess of Athens, killed her son and fed him to her husband King Tereus of Thrace, after the latter had raped her sister Philomela and cut out her tongue to silence her. The motive for the filicide was similar, i.e., to make the offender suffer and perish at the same time.

If the aim of tragedy is to arouse fear and pity, as Aristotle wrote in “Poetics“, this Greek tragedy by Euripides has certainly achieved its aim: it arouses fear in men and pity in women.


“Wherefore whoso is wise in his generation ought never to have his children taught to be too clever; for besides the reputation they get for idleness, they purchase bitter odium from the citizens. For if thou shouldst import new learning amongst dullards, thou wilt be thought a useless trifler, void of knowledge; while if thy fame in the city o’ertops that of the pretenders to cunning knowledge, thou wilt win their dislike.”

Medea: “O Zeus! why hast thou granted unto man clear signs to know the sham in gold, while on man’s brow no brand is stamped whereby to gauge the villain’s heart?”

Jason: “Yea, men should have begotten children from some other source, no female race existing; thus would no evil ever have fallen on mankind.”



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