One of two readings for tonight’s class – I’m having a hard time coming up with anything about Medea that doesn’t seem cliche – perhaps because this myth of the passionately, murderously motivated woman is so done, so analyzed, so interpreted through every possible lens – that I’m not sure what I could possibly add to the discussion (other than the impressionistic retelling above which I found on YouTube).
While re-reading the play Monday I was thinking about Joseph Campbell’s theory that myth is present in culture in order “to come to terms with the world [and] harmonize our lives with reality.” Not that women murdering their children in Ancient Greece was probably much of a reality, but what’s interesting about Medea is that her vengeful actions – the murder of Jason’s new wife and father-in-law, and then her two children (sired by Jason) – are apparently supported by the gods who aid her escape with a winged chariot. Following the narrative, the reader/listener/viewer is to understand that Jason’s punishment is just, because he has broken his oath to the gods by spurning Medea for another wife (he had sworn eternal faithfulness).
For his part, Jason is no counterbalance to the murderous passions of Medea, so blinded by his need to save face in front of his new family that he delivers the instrument of his new wife’s death to her boudoir. Are we to understand that he is bewitched or unable to comprehend the full horror of what his former love might be planning? Or is it that his self-rationalizing excuses make him blind to the pain and suffering he has caused others (the exiled Medea and her children). And is this in part what he is ultimately punished for?
Although Jason attempts to rationalize his choices and bring Medea to see the reasonableness of his actions, his spoken motives are clearly false as betrayed by the reaction of the princess to his children (she recoils from them). Jason is not only shirking his marriage duty to Medea but his parental duty to his children – for in order to have the love he wants he is willing to see his children cast out. It’s difficult to see Jason as any less a creature of passion though his appears more tightly controlled, or at least, more socially acceptable. On some level we are supposed to sympathize with Jason, but it is hard to get around the fact that he is willing to overthrow all prior commitments for increased power and wealth.
I suppose, too, that Medea leaves us with the question of the dividing line between revenge and justice. While the chorus remains supportive of Medea in her quest to kill the princess and her father (justice), they vocally oppose the killing of the children (revenge). While Jason is enraged at “justice”, he is destroyed by revenge (womanized through the act of wanting to perform burial rites). It is the act of revenge which deviates both actors from their gendered scripts, and releases Medea from her tortured love as she flies off into the skies (to be later married in another myth).
All curious lessons from the collective mind of myth. Explanations for madness, revenge, and murder? An exposition on the importance of duty and loyalty? Both?
More thoughts soon – stay tuned.