Summary of the Medea Tragedy by Euripides

Medea by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix (1862).
Medea by Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix (1862). Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As we learn from the nurse in the opening scene, in Euripides' Medea (which was first produced 431 B.C. when it only won third prize), Medea and Jason have lived together as husband and wife in Corinth. They have lived there ever since fleeing, first Medea's homeland of Colchis, where Medea betrayed her father King Aaetes, and then Iolcos , where Medea was instrumental in the death of King Pelias.

When Jason landed at Colchis, where King Pelias had sent him to capture the magical golden fleece, Medea saw and fell in love with him, and so, despite her father's desire to retain possession of the precious object, helped  the handsome young hero.

Medea and Jason have had two children during their life together, but their domestic arrangement is about to end. At the opening of Euripides' Medea, Jason and his father-in-law-to-be, Creon, say Medea and her children must leave the country so that Jason may marry Creon's daughter Glauce in peace. Medea is blamed for her own fate, being told that if she hadn't behaved as a jealous, possessive woman, she could have remained in Corinth.

Medea asks for and is granted one day's reprieve, but King Creon was right to be fearful. During that one day's time Medea confronts Jason, who blames Medea's banishment on her own temper, rubbing salt into the wound.

Medea reminds Jason of what she has sacrificed for him and what evil she has done on his behalf. She reminds him that since she is from Colchis and is, therefore, a foreigner in Greece, without a Greek mate, she will not be welcome elsewhere. Jason tells Medea that he has given her enough already, but that he will recommend her to the care of his friends (and he has many as witnessed by the gathering of the Argonauts).

Jason's friends need not be bothered, as it turns out, since Aegeus of Athens arrives and agrees that Medea may find refuge with him. With her future assured, Medea turns to other matters.

Medea is a witch. Jason knows this, as do Creon and Glauce, but Medea seemed appeased, so when she presents a wedding gift to Glauce of a dress and crown, Glauce accepts them. The theme is familiar from the death of Hercules. When Glauce puts on the robe it burns her flesh. Unlike Hercules, she dies. Creon dies, too, trying to help his daughter.

So far the motives and reactions seem understandable, but then Medea does the unspeakable. She murders her own two children. Her revenge comes when she witnesses Jason's horror as she flies off to Athens in the chariot of the sun god Helios (Hyperion), her ancestor.

Elsewhere on the Web:

Medea Tragedy by EuripidesE