Medea's Monologue by Euripides

Jason and Medea by John William Waterhouse. 1907.
PD Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In one of the most chilling monologues in all of Greek Mythology, Medea seeks revenge against the heroic yet callous Jason (the father of her children) by killing her own offspring. Found in the play "Medea" by the Greek writer Euripides, this monologue offers an alternative to the traditional female monologues found in classic literature.

First Feminist Hero

In the play, Medea kills her children (offstage) and then flies away on the chariot of Helios, and while many have argued that this play demonizes women, others contend that Medea represents literature’s first feminist heroine, a woman who chooses her own destiny despite the hand she was dealt by the gods.

Although not the typical mother character monologue, Madea's monologue is deeply expressive of the difficulty and multiplicity of the emotions love, loss, and revenge, making it a truly excellent audition piece for female actors who want to convey their ability to portray a depth of complex emotions.

Full Text of Medea's Monologue

Taken from an English translation of the Greek play by Shelley Dean Milman found in The Plays of Euripides in English, vol ii, the following monologue is delivered by Medea upon discovering Jason has left her for the princess of Corinth. Upon this realization that she's been left alone, Madea attempts to take control of her own life and says:

O my sons!
My sons! ye have a city and a house
Where, leaving hapless me behind, without
A mother ye for ever shall reside.
But I to other realms an exile go,
Ere any help from you I could derive,
Or see you blest; the hymeneal pomp,
The bride, the genial couch, for you adorn,
And in these hands the kindled torch sustain.
How wretched am I through my own perverseness!
You, O my sons, I then in vain have nurtured,
In vain have toiled, and, wasted with fatigue,
Suffered the pregnant matron's grievous throes.
On you, in my afflictions, many hopes
I founded erst: that ye with pious care
Would foster my old age, and on the bier
Extend me after death—much envied lot
Of mortals; but these pleasing anxious thoughts
Are vanished now; for, losing you, a life
Of bitterness and anguish shall I lead.
But as for you, my sons, with those dear eyes
Fated no more your mother to behold,
Hence are ye hastening to a world unknown.
Why do ye gaze on me with such a look
Of tenderness, or wherefore smile? for these
Are your last smiles. Ah wretched, wretched me!
What shall I do? My resolution fails.
Sparkling with joy now I their looks have seen,
My friends, I can no more. To those past schemes
I bid adieu, and with me from this land
My children will convey. Why should I cause
A twofold portion of distress to fall
On my own head, that I may grieve the sire
By punishing his sons? This shall not be:
Such counsels I dismiss. But in my purpose
What means this change? Can I prefer derision,
And with impunity permit the foe
To 'scape? My utmost courage I must rouse:
For the suggestion of these tender thoughts
Proceeds from an enervate heart. My sons,
Enter the regal mansion. [Exuent SONS.] As for those
Who deem that to be present were unholy
While I the destined victims offer up,
Let them see to it. This uplifted arm
Shall never shrink. Alas! alas! my soul
Commit not such a deed. Unhappy woman,
Desist and spare thy children; we will live
Together, they in foreign realms shall cheer
Thy exile. No, by those avenging fiends
Who dwell with Pluto in the realms beneath,
This shall not be, nor will I ever leave
My sons to be insulted by their foes.
They certainly must die; since then they must,
I bore and I will slay them: 'tis a deed
Resolved on, nor my purpose will I change.
Full well I know that now the royal bride
Wears on her head the magic diadem,
And in the variegated robe expires:
But, hurried on by fate, I tread a path
Of utter wretchedness, and them will plunge
Into one yet more wretched. To my sons
Fain would I say: "O stretch forth your right hands
Ye children, for your mother to embrace.
O dearest hands, ye lips to me most dear,
Engaging features and ingenuous looks,
May ye be blest, but in another world;
For by the treacherous conduct of your sire
Are ye bereft of all this earth bestowed.
Farewell, sweet kisses—tender limbs, farewell!
And fragrant breath! I never more can bear
To look on you, my children." My afflictions
Have conquered me; I now am well aware
What crimes I venture on: but rage, the cause
Of woes most grievous to the human race,
Over my better reason hath prevailed.

Shocking, Even Back Then

Even Euripides contemporaries found the monologue and play to be shocking to the Athenian audiences at the time, though this may have stemmed more from the artistic liberties Euripides took in retelling Medea's story—the children historically were said to have been killed by the Corinthians, not by Medea—and the play itself was ranked third of three at the Dionysia Festival where it premiered in 431 B.C.

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Bradford, Wade. "Medea's Monologue by Euripides." ThoughtCo, Jun. 20, 2021, Bradford, Wade. (2021, June 20). Medea's Monologue by Euripides. Retrieved from Bradford, Wade. "Medea's Monologue by Euripides." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 28, 2022).