Notes on Medea (Lines 1388 – end)

This passage is from the very end of Medea and is thus very important to the play and its interpretation as a whole. This is a continuation of the confrontation between Jason and Medea, following Medea’s murder of the children and with their corpses laid upon her chariot. Medea has refused to let Jason bury the children. The children function as symbols of Medea and Jason’s marriage and future together, which have been terminated by Medea’s actions. Therefore this scene is a chance to present the final conflict between protagonist and antagonist in the form of an alternating series of single lines, known as stichomythia. This is a common device in Greek tragedy and in this passage it aids to convey the tension between the two character’s at the play’s climax, while also providing insight into the character’s feelings and separate points of view.

The stage directions at the beginning of this passage specify that “the rest of the play is chanted”. When performed as a play, the chanting would give this scene a heightened sense of drama layered on top of the tension and fast-pace of the stichomythia. Even when read as text on a page, the drama is still carried through vicious, angry and emotional parry of insults between Jason and Medea. The two sides of this dialogue alternating in quick succession leaves the audience in a conflicted state, able to feel sympathy and hatred for both characters simultaneously as they argue with the bodies of their dead children in the background.

Jason is given the final word in this confrontation, in which he appeals to Zeus and portrays himself as the victim of Medea, the “foul lioness”. Medea’s character has been more fully developed earlier in the play, and it feels that this final passage is where more insight is given into Jason’s character. This speech and his appeal to Zeus make it clear that he takes no responsibility for what has occurred. He abandoned his children and wife to advance his social standing, but finds at the end the depth of his love for the children. Medea’s revenge is highly effective in this way and in this passage Jason is particularly hurt by her refusal to even allow him to touch and bury them. Again it is easy to have very conflicted feelings toward Jason, feeling his pain but also aware of his lack of repentance.

Following this, Medea departs on an airborne chariot without remark and the play’s final lines come from the Chorus. The Chorus are used throughout the play to provide commentary upon the narrative events, and in this passage specifically they provide a summation and explanation for Medea’s magical departure. The claim that “gods bring many things to pass against our expectation”, that they work in mysterious ways points to a wider theme and message that Euripides may have been attempting to convey to his Ancient Greek audience. The respectable Jason, a male with Greek civilisation and social mores on his side, still comes to a fall when he disregards the passions and nature of the emotional female outsider, Medea.

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