1 October 2014
What’s love got to do with it? In Euripides tragic play, Medea, a woman that gives everything away for a man’s love is repaid with scorn and abandonment, leading her to seek revenge against her former lover. Euripides portrays Medea as the archetype of emotion, passion, and vengeance and Jason as a symbol of reason, forethought, and betrayal. Untamed emotion inherent to Medea’s character becomes the driving force for her bloodlust and extreme course of action following her divorce with Jason.
Medea’s love for Jason is one founded in her whimsical, emotionally charged decisions rather than considerate reason. Their love is a madness that hides its symptoms with temporary joy. In the nurse’s opening soliloquy, she states that Medea is mad when she flees from her “walled town of lolcus, mad with love for Jason” (Euripides 7-8). This madness makes Medea blind to the sacrifices she has made to be with Jason, until he wishes to divorce her. The Nurse, once she realizes Medea has thrown away her entire life for Jason, says of Medea's demeanor that she “Speaks to herself alone, and wails Aloud for her dear father, her own land and home, Which she betrayed and left” (Euripides 30-31). Her intense emotional guilt and regret consume her as she cries out “o my father, my city, you I deserted; my brother I shamefully murdered!” (Euripides 168-169). Medea’s uncontrolled depression drives her to continually express thoughts of hopelessness, including a list of suicidal prayers such as
Come, flame of the sky,
Pierce through my head!
What do I gain from living any longer?
Oh, how I hate living! I want
To end my life, leave it behind, and die. (Euripides 143-147)
As a woman completely enthralled by emotional distress, her decision-making abilities are seriously impaired. However, Medea’s manic state of mind is an exaggerated instance of her general inability to consider long-term consequences when making important decisions. This is apparent in her decisions made when she initially fell in love with Jason and was unable to see his ulterior motive for the marriage. Jason’s choice to marry Medea was not one solely based on love, but rather what benefits Jason would reap from the arrangement. When arguing with Medea about her banishment from Corinth, Jason refers to her initial passion for him as a weakness that would anger her far too easily, and calmly states, “to recount how helpless passion drove you then to save my life would be invidious; and I will not stress the point” (Euripides 530-531). By voicing this statement to Medea, Jason makes it known that he was aware that he was intentionally misleading Medea before they were married.
Medea’s immaturity when handling her emotions makes her naive not only to Jason’s purpose for their marriage, but also his subsequent marriage and endgame goals. Her ignorance towards Jason’s beliefs on the purpose of marriage allows her to live in a false sense of joy. Her misguided happiness leaves her oblivious to the obvious; Jason is naturally destined to find someone who may offer him more than Medea can, thus rendering her obsolete. When speaking to Medea on his purpose of his new marriage, Jason states:
It was not, as you resentfully assume, that I
Found your attractions wearisome, and was smitten with
Desire for a new wife; nor did I specially want
To raise a numerous family - the sons we have
Are enough, I'm satisfied; but I wanted to ensure
First - and the most important - that we should live well
And not be poor (Euripides 561-565)
Medea is disgusted with the premise presented by Jason, and claims his blasphemous plan is unacceptable because it breaks the sacred covenant made with the gods when a child is born. :
Even after I had borne you sons I If you had still
Been childless I could have pardoned you for hankering
After this new marriage. But respect for oaths has gone
To the wind. Do you, I wonder, think that the old gods.