In the play Medea by Euripides, the major character of same name is the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, and the granddaughter of the sun god, Helios. Medea is a powerful sorceress. King Aeetes most prized possession is the golden ram’s fleece.
Jason is a Greek hero and leader of the Argonauts. He arrives at Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. Aeetes of course would not part with his Golden Fleece. To settle the matter, Aeetes made Jason undergo several tasks which made the Golden Fleece impossible to obtain.
Medea falls madly in love with Jason. She helps him secure the Golden Fleece after Jason promises to marry her. Jason flees with Medea and her younger brother Absyrtis after getting the Golden Fleece. To buy time from their pursuers, Medea cold-bloodedly kills her own brother, scatters his body parts all over so that those pursuing them have to stop to collect the pieces one by one to be able to bury them.
Jason and Medea settle in Iolcus. Medea uses sorcery to restore youthfulness to Jason’s father, Aeson by cutting his throat and putting magical potion inside. She offers to do the same for Pelias, Jason’s uncle, who assumes Aeson’s without authority. Pelias’ daughters cut his throat. Medea did not restore him. Medea is hoping that Jason would assume the throne after Pelias dies but her hopes are dashed as they are meted the punishment of exile.
Jason and Medea eventually settle in Corinth. Medea bears Jason two children. Things take a turn for the worse when Jason abandons her to be able to marry Creon’s, the king of Corinth, daughter.
Medea, scorched by love, could not accept Jason’s betrayal. She moves to avenge her broken heart. First, she kills Jason’s new bride by poisoning her robe and crown. King Creon, seeing her daughter wreathe in pain, embraces her. He too dies. Then she murders her two children in her bid to cause Jason more pain. She flees Corinth and brings with her the bodies of her two children.
Character Analysis of Medea
To say that Medea commits evil acts is probably a major understatement. Medea’s actions go beyond monstrosity. They are manifestations of pure evil, one who does not have conscience or even the slightest hint of capacity for remorse. Medea, in utter barbarism, is incapable of being a vulnerable human.
Medea’s love for Jason knows no bounds – well, literally. She is willing to annihilate anyone who gets in the way. Medea’s extreme nature is evident right from the start. It is probably Medea’s interpretation of the line “she is madly in love”. Her love goes beyond normal and rational bounds. Indeed her madness is beyond comprehension.
She commits everything to please Jason at first. She commits treachery by stealing from her own father to be able to please the man she loves. Then she kills her own brother to help Jason escape. And she commits treason of the highest order when she kills her own flesh and blood, the fruits of her womb, her own precious children to extract revenge on Jason.
The nurse narrates that Medea had committed questionable acts in the name of love only to be gone through the entire adventure to retrieve the Golden Fleece and defied her household only to be abandoned by Jason and left “slighted, and [crying]aloud on the Vows they had made to each other, […] [calling]upon the gods to witness what sort of return Jason has made to her love” (20 -24).
Love conquers all, so they say. But in this instance, it is hard to decide if it was extreme love or extreme hate that overcomes. Medea is capable of both. Her extreme nature is revealed right at the very start of the story when she helps Jason secure the Golden Fleece. She is capable of destroying anybody who comes between her and Jason.
Medea’s infamous acts are so chilling. What makes them doubly abhorring is the fact that she committed those acts against the very people she is supposed to give love to. This is the reason why Medea is a traitor through and through. These very people love her and give love to her. They may not expect to be loved in return but at least, some degree of respect would have sufficed. Medea does not only break their trust, she commits the most despicable act of all by murdering them.
It is hard to fathom the degree of insanity behind Medea’s actions. A daughter who steals from her own father. A sister who kills her own brother. A mother who murders her own children. With the murder of her children, Medea has reached the apex of her villainy.
Probably the greatest irony of all is that Medea’s greatest failure is also a manifestation of her greatest redeeming quality. Medea’s extreme acts leave no doubt of her capacity for extreme love for Jason. Of course, this love goes beyond normal and logical bounds. If we take the murder out of it, we could see a vulnerable woman deeply in love and got scorched in the process. The only motive behind her chilling acts is her deep love for Jason.
It is easy to solve problems that require definite solution. For instance, if you cannot afford to buy food then do something to secure money – be it borrowing, working or asking for money. But problems concerning the heart defy objectivity. That is why, in the heat of passionate outbursts, crimes are sometimes committed. We see a husband killing his beloved wife caught in the act of adultery. It is not hard to understand what Medea must have gone through upon discovering Jason’s betrayal of her extreme trust and love.
Jason’s actions pushed her over the edge, making her act in ways not comprehensible by logic and reason although, it is hard to discern if what occurred is the result of momentary madness or extreme cold-heartedness.
Medea is both a victim and master of fate. What probably happened is that Medea could not face her fears of separation. She could not imagine life without Jason. Apart from Jason is equal to no life at all. This is reason enough for her to commit murder against the very people who trust and love her.
Medea’s half-baked values are brought to sudden and extreme test with Jason’s sudden alienation. She is not exactly the model of virtue right from the very start. She is intensely proud. She could not bear to allow her enemies to gain any form of victory against her. This could, in part, be the reason for murdering her children. She does not want to see her children harmed by an enemy.
She is very intelligent. She can also be cunning and a cold manipulator. She is able to see behind the hypocrisies of her enemies and use these weaknesses against them. Her revenge is total. She holds no prisoners. The only thing going against her is that she is willing to pay the price at whatever costs, even the lives of those she holds dear.
When Jason turns against her, she sees him as an enemy that she needs to conquer at all costs. With her emotions in all-time high, it is hard for her to respond rationally, to see things in an objective way. She acted out of instinct. Her worst self come to the fore.
All her acts are avoidable had she tried to think before acting. In this instance, it is important to note that Medea’s distinctive quality is her capacity to act on instinct and have no hesitations about it. So actually, these monstrous acts are in consonance with her innate nature and character.
Medea might have been wrong in committing those acts but her premise that those very acts are what would hurt Jason the most is right. Jason’s pain and loss would probably be insurmountable after what happened. In a way, Medea achieves the very end she strives for. Famously, the pleasure of seeing Jason suffer the loss of his children outweighed her own remorse at killing them.