What we know about Medea in our early years of schooling is of a young girl in love with Jason who helped him acquire the Golden Fleece. From then on, there was nothing that we know about her until Euripides painted her in pathos and in a vengeful mood. Both Jason and Medea in Euripides’ play are different persons compared with their characters in the Jason and the Argonauts story. Myths, or Greek myths for that matter, reflect a nation’s character no matter how romanticized or unbelievable those myths are.
Somehow there are glimpses in a nation’s culture in a particular period that could be drawn from these stories. Is the Medea portrayed by Euripides gives us some insights on the status of Greek women in Ancient Greece? It is my belief that viable conclusions could be drawn supporting the thesis that Greek women are subordinate to Greek men in the society attributed to as the cradle of democracy. In the process of coming up with the preceding thesis, we should also consider that the Medea in the play is not wholly representative of Greek women contemporaneous with Euripides.
One of these is the royal blood of Medea. Not many Greek women are born in royalty. Second, it would indicate that Medea is strong-willed and is not contained in her emotions as most women would be in a patriarchal Greek society. Medea has mastered the art of potions and poisons which if it is part of the domain of Greek women, is not representative of all the Greek women . Even though this is the case, treatment or even conceptions of treatment of royal women is parallel also with the treatment or even conceptions of treatment of non-royal women.
The play opened with the nurse bemoaning the state of mind of her mistress, Medea. The nurse, being a common subject, differentiated herself and the rest of her class from the royal class of which Medea belongs, “The minds of royalty are dangerous: since they often command and seldom obey, they are subject to violent changes of mood (lines 18-19)”. Indeed Medea is not typical of women and even of the social strata, but this gives an excuse for the Medea of the play of what she is about to do and not exonerate her from the typicality of the gender construct ascribed to women.
Despite the sacrifices she made for Jason, the play tells us that she was about to be set aside in favor of another woman. Both of them may not be married, but yet they borne children and lived together as a family. This betrayal by the basest of men as Medea would describe it, are the main themes of the monologues she uttered in the play. One is most telling when it comes to somebody with gender equity in mind: Of all creatures that have breath and sensation, we women are the most unfortunate. First at an exorbitant price e must buy a husband and master of our bodies. [This misfortune is more painful than misfortune. ] And the outcome of our life’s striving hangs on this, whether we take a bad or a good husband. For divorce is discreditable for women and it is not possible to refuse wedlock. And when a woman comes into the new customs and practices of her husband’s house, she must somehow divine, since she has not learned it at home, how she shall best deal with her husband. The first four lines refers to a dowry expected from the family of the bride for the groom.
Medea is not even married to Jason, but she is telling it as if this is expected from brides of both the highborn and the not-so-highborn. She is plainly telling us that women are paying huge or exorbitant amounts to husbands-to-be whose role is to be master of their (women’s) bodies. Obviously arranged marriages are common, if not the order of the day. The succeeding portions of this particular monologue continued on about men having freedom of movement for they can come and go in the family home. Women supposedly are free from danger since they are confined in the homes.
Jason’s portions of dialogue on women refer not only to Medea but to women in general and of how women should behave or conduct themselves and what stereotypes they have become. In lines 963-964, Jason reminded Medea that, “. . . if my wife holds me in any regard, she will value my wishes more highly than wealth, I am quite sure. Medea echoed men’s perception of women in these lines: “and furthermore we are women, unable to perform great deeds of valor, but most skilful architects of every evil (lines 409-410)”.
In conclusion, Medea’s atypicality in character is obvious. She has become a vengeful princess hell-bent on wrecking havoc to Jason’s life. Her statements bear typicality with the subjects referred to, i. e. , women. Writers or playwrights catering to society will seldom deviate from paralleling real life situations in their written works. There is a need for the audience to understand or relate to what is presented to them. Violence to children in the play could be forgiven, but not wholesale departure from reality.