Euripides [485 or 480-406 BCE], Medea [431 BCE]

        Euripides' Medea (not media!) is nearly contemporaneous with Sophocles' Oedipus (431 BCE and ?429 BCE), but Euripides' vision of what tragic drama should do is radically different from his older competitor for the Dionysiac festival's prize for best play.  Look for more extravagant events, especially the play's conclusion which uses the mechanical hoist that even non-classicists often know by its Latin name, deus ex machina.  In this case, it's more of a "lamia ex machina" (witch from the machine), but for an earth-bound Greek classical audience, the sudden illusion of a flying chariot drawn by dragons above the stage would have been a wowser!  The evocation of the barbarian East in Medea's character and values also sets Euripides apart from Sophocles, who tends to treat all his characters as Greeks-dressed-up-as-other-peoples-or-gods.  What Jason tells Medea is generally true about the Greek treatment of barbarians, literally "non-Greek-speakers" whose languages were mocked by Greeks as sounding like "ba-ba-ba."  Aegeus, King of Athens, however, is willing to offer the "xenos" or foreigner the rights of a guest in exchange for her exotic technology.  What might Euripedes be telling the Athenian audience about the risks of their city's relative openness to "metics" or foreign residents? 

Questions that might lead to paper topics or class discussion issues--


1.  What roles are served by the Nurse and the Tutor?  What kinds of moral positions do their conversations establish?


2.  The Nurse, rejecting the lure of royal status, says she wants only "the middle way"?  Is that good or heroic advice?


3.  Medea invokes the names of several divinities in her rage.  Who are they, and how do they differ from the gods of Homer?


4.  How has Medea "bought a husband"?  What is Medea's complete dowery; what she brought to Jason?


5.How is the play's plot affected by Medea's 1-day bargain?


6.  Compare Medea's speech in which she persuades the Chorus to conceal her plots and the speech in which she announces her plot.  How would you describe the change in tone you see there?


7.  How do you interpret this line: [Medea] "We were born women--useless for honest purposes, / But in all kinds of evil skilled practitioners?"  Does Medea have any ulterior motive for saying it?  Does Euripides mean it?  (Esp. see the Chorus.)


8.  Jason warns Medea against "ungoverned rage.Is this her "tragic flaw," the key to the tragic events?  How does it  relate to Medea's charge that Jason exhibits "shamelessness"?   How might these charges reveal Euripides' theory of tragedy?


9.  In the debate between Medea and Jason, whose  arguments are most convincing?  What is wrong with the  unconvincing arguments?  What is the function of the Chorus's speech that follows?


10.  What functions are served by Medea's talk with Aegeus?   Medea convinced Jason's treacherous uncle Pelias to submit to  being butchered because he thought she could rejuvenate him.  Do  you see any relationship here?


11.  Why does Euripides have Medea reveal her entire plan so early in the play?  What does this allow him to do?


12.  What is the logic of Medea's decision to kill her sons?  How does she characterize her "kind"?


13. How do you interpret Medea's tears and her mention of  the "pain the future hides from us"?


14.  Compare the writing and staging of the play's catastrophe with the previous 34 pages.  What new dramatic features does Euripides  add?


15.  Why does the Chorus not go in to save the children?


16.  For more solid historical background on the issue of how the audience would react to Medea's "barbarian" character, if you are interested in this approach to the literature for exam essays or a final paper, check out The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Pericles (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007), 938.04 P441Ss 2007  especially Chapter 6, "Other sorts: slaves, foreigners, and women in Periclean Athens," by Cynthia Patterson.