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This guide contains resources related to the study of 'Medea' written by playwright Euripides.

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About the Play

Medea, in Greek mythology, an enchantress who helped Jason, leader of the Argonauts, to obtain the Golden Fleece from her father, King Aeëtes of Colchis. She was of divine descent and had the gift of prophecy. She married Jason and used her magic powers and advice to help him. In one version, when they fled and were pursued by Aeëtes, Jason, in conspiracy with Medea, cut her brother Apsyrtus to pieces and threw him into the sea to delay the pursuit.

The Medea of Euripides takes up the story at a later stage, after Jason and Medea had fled Colchis with the fleece and had been driven out of Iolcos because of the vengeance taken by Medea on King Pelias of Iolcos (who had sent Jason to fetch the fleece). The play is set during the time that the pair lived in Corinth, when Jason deserted Medea for the daughter of King Creon of Corinth; in revenge, Medea murdered Creon, his daughter, and her own two sons by Jason and took refuge with King Aegeus of Athens, having escaped from Corinth in a cart drawn by dragons sent by her grandfather Helios. After fleeing Corinth, Medea became the wife of Aegeus, who later drove her away after her unsuccessful attempt to poison his son Theseus. The Greek historian Herodotus related that from Athens Medea went to the region of Asia subsequently called Media, whose inhabitants thereupon changed their name to Medes.

Medea also is the heroine of Seneca’s Medea, a tragedy based on Euripides’ drama, and a number of modern settings, including plays by the 19th-century Austrian dramatist Franz Grillparzer and the 20th-century French playwright Jean Anouilh and operas by the Italian-French composer Luigi Cherubini (1797) and the French composer Darius Milhaud (1939).

Medea 2017. Britannica School. 

Historical Context

Medea was composed in the golden age of Athens. The dates of Athenian ascendancy correspond with the victory of Athens and its allies (the Delian league) over the advancing Persian empire in 478 B.C. and Athens defeat at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 B.C. Medea was staged in the first year of that war (431 B.C.), a conflict with the rival city-state, Sparta, which lasted more than twenty years and would prove to be Athens' undoing.

Lit Charts, 2017.

Greek Mythology

Greek mythology, body of stories concerning the gods, heroes, and rituals of the ancient Greeks. That the myths contained a considerable element of fiction was recognized by the more critical Greeks, such as the philosopher Plato in the 5th–4th century BCE. In general, however, in the popular piety of the Greeks, the myths were viewed as true accounts. Greek mythology has subsequently had extensive influence on the arts and literature of Western civilization, which fell heir to much of Greek culture.

Although people of all countries, eras, and stages of civilization have developed myths that explain the existence and workings of natural phenomena, recount the deeds of gods or heroes, or seek to justify social or political institutions, the myths of the Greeks have remained unrivaled in the Western world as sources of imaginative and appealing ideas. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in Classical mythological themes.

Greek mythology 2017. Britannica School. 

About the Playwright

Euripides, (born c. 484 bc, Athens [Greece]—died 406, Macedonia), last of classical Athens’s three great tragic dramatists, following Aeschylus and Sophocles.

It is possible to reconstruct only the sketchiest biography of Euripides. His mother’s name was Cleito; his father’s name was Mnesarchus or Mnesarchides. One tradition states that his mother was a greengrocer who sold herbs in the marketplace. Aristophanes joked about this in comedy after comedy; but there is better indirect evidence that Euripides came of a well-off family. Euripides first received the honour of being chosen to compete in the dramatic festival in 455, and he won his first victory in 441. Euripides left Athens for good in 408, accepting an invitation from Archelaus, king of Macedonia. He died in Macedonia in 406.

Euripides 2017. Britannica School. 

Euripides: marble herm [Image]. Encyclopædia Britannica. 

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Greek Theatre

Greek theatre began in the 6th century BCE in Athens with the performance of tragedy plays at religious festivals. These, in turn, inspired the genre of Greek comedy plays. The two types of Greek drama would be hugely popular and performances spread around the Mediterranean and influenced Hellenistic and Roman theatre. Thus the works of such great playwrights as Sophocles and Aristophanes formed the foundation upon which all modern theatre is based.

Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited, 2017.

Image retrieved from Greece.com, 2017.