The famous accounts of Medea and Jason from a.) the Metamorphoses of Ovid and b.) Euripides (scroll down)…
Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Bk VII:1-73 Medea agonises over her love for Jason
And now the Argonauts were ploughing through the sea in their ship, built in Thessalian Pagasae. They had visited Phineus, king of Thracian Salmydessus, living out a useless old age in perpetual blindness, and the winged sons of Boreas had driven the birdlike Harpies from the presence of the unhappy, aged man. At last, after enduring many trials, under their famous leader, Jason, they reached the turbulent river-waters of the muddy Phasis, in the land of Colchis. While they were standing before King Aeetes, of Aea, requesting the return of the Golden Fleece, taken from the divine ram that carried Phrixus, and while extreme terms were being imposed, involving daunting tasks, Medea, the daughter of the king, conceived an overwhelming passion for Jason. She fought against it for a time, but when reason could not overcome desire, she debated with herself.
‘Medea, you struggle in vain: some god, I do not know which, opposes you. I wonder if this, or something, like this, is what people indeed call love? Or why would the tasks my father demands of Jason seem so hard? They are more than hard! Why am I afraid of his death, when I have scarcely seen him? What is the cause of all this fear? Quench, if you can, unhappy girl, these flames that you feel in your virgin heart! If I could, I would be wiser! But a strange power draws me to him against my will. Love urges one thing: reason another. I see, and I desire the better: I follow the worse. Why do you burn for a stranger, royal virgin, and dream of marriage in an alien land? This earth can also give you what you can love. Whether he lives or dies, is in the hands of the gods. Let him live! I can pray for this even if I may not love him: what is Jason guilty of? Who, but the heartless, would not be touched by Jason’s youth, and birth, and courage? Who, though the other qualities were absent, could not be stirred by his beauty?
He has stirred my heart, indeed. And unless I offer my help, he will feel the fiery breath of the bronze-footed bulls; have to meet that enemy, sprung from the soil, born of his own sowing; or be given as captured prey to the dragon’s greed. If I allow this, then I am born of the tigress: then I show I have a heart of stone and iron! Why can I not watch him die, and shame my eyes by seeing? Why do I not urge the bulls on, to meet him, and the wild earth-born warriors, and the unsleeping dragon? Let the gods also desire the better! Though it is not for me to pray for, but to bring about.
Shall I betray my father’s country? Shall some unknown be saved by my powers, and unhurt because of me, without me, set his sails to the wind, and be husband to another, leaving Medea to be punished? If he could do that, if he could set another woman above me, let him die, the ungrateful man! But his look, his nobility of spirit, and his graceful form, do not make me fear deceit or forgetfulness of my kindness. And he will give me his word beforehand, and I will gather the gods to witness our pledge. Why fear when it is certain? Prepare yourself, and dispel all delay: Jason will be for ever in your debt, take you to himself in sacred marriage, and through the cities of Pelasgian Greece, the crowds of women will glorify you as his saviour.
Carried by the winds, shall I leave my native country, my sister, my brother, my father, and my gods? Well then, my father is barbarous, and my country is savage, and my brother is still a child: my sister’s prayers are for me, and the greatest god is within! I will not be leaving greatness behind, but pursuing greatness: honour as a saviour of these Achaean people, familiarity with a better land and with cities whose fame is flourishing even here, the culture and arts of those places, and the man, the son of Aeson, for whom I would barter those things that the wide world owns, joined to whom I will be called fortunate, dear to the gods, and my head will be crowned with the stars.
What of the stories of mountains that clash together in mid-ocean, and Charybdis the bane of sailors, now sucking in, now spewing out the sea, and rapacious dog-headed Scylla, yelping over the Sicilian deeps? Well, holding what I love, clinging to Jason’s breast, I shall be carried over the wide seas: in his arms, I will fear nothing, or if I am afraid, I will only be afraid for him.
But do you call that marriage, Medea, and clothe your fault with fair names? Consider instead, how great a sin you are near to, and while you can, shun the crime!’ She spoke, and in front of her eyes, were rectitude, piety, modesty: and now, Cupid, defeated, was turning away.
Bk VII:74-99 Jason promises to marry Medea
She went to the ancient altars of Hecate, daughter of the Titan Perses, that the shadowy grove conceals, in the remote forest. And now she was strong and her passion, now conquered, had ebbed, when she saw the son of Aeson and the flame, that was dead, relit. Her cheeks flushed, and then her whole face became pallid. Just as a tiny spark that lies buried under the ashes, takes life from a breath of air, and grows and, living, regains its previous strength, so now her calmed passion, that you would have thought had dulled, when she saw the young hero, flared up at his visible presence.
It chanced that Aeson’s son was more than usually handsome that day: you could forgive her for loving him. She gazed at him, and fixed her eyes on him as if she had never looked at him before, and in her infatuation, seeing his face, could not believe him mortal, nor could she turn away. So that when, indeed, the stranger grasped her right hand, and began to speak, and in a submissive voice asked for her help, promising marriage, she replied in a flood of tears. ‘I see what I am doing: it is not ignorance of the truth that ensnares me, but love. Your salvation is in my gift, but being saved, remember your promise!’
He swore by the sacred rites of the Triple Goddess, by the divine presence of the grove, by the all-seeing Sun, who was the father of King Aeetes, his father-in-law to be, and by his own good fortune, and by his great danger. Immediately, as he was now trusted, he accepted the magic herbs from her, and learnt their use, and returned to the palace, joyfully.
Bk VII:100-158 Jason wins the Golden Fleece
The next day’s dawn dispelled the glittering stars. Then the people gathered on the sacred field of Mars and took up their position on the ridge. The king was seated in the middle, clothed in purple, and distinguished by his ivory sceptre. Behold, the bronze-footed bulls, breathing Vulcan’s fire from nostrils of steel. At the touch of their heat the grass shrivels, and as stoked fires roar, or as broken limestone, that has absorbed the heat inside an earthen furnace, hisses explosively, when cool water is scattered over it, so the flames sounded, pent up in their heaving chests and burning throats. Still the son of Aeson went out to meet them.
As he came to them, the fierce creatures, with their iron-tipped horns, turned their terrible gaze towards him, pawed the dusty ground with their cloven feet, and filled the air with the steam of their bellowing. The Minyans were frozen in fear. He went up to the bulls, not feeling their fiery breath (so great is the power of magic drugs!), and stroking their hanging dewlaps, with a bold hand, yoked them together, and forced them to pull the heavy blade, and till the virgin field with the iron plough. The Colchians were stunned, but the Argonauts increased their shouting, and heightened his courage.
Then he took the dragon’s teeth from the bronze helmet, and scattered them over the turned earth. The soil softened the seeds that had been steeped in virulent poison, and they sprouted, and the teeth, freshly sown, produced new bodies. As an embryo takes on human form in the mother’s womb, and is fully developed there in every aspect, not emerging to the living air until it is complete, so when those shapes of men had been made in the bowels of the pregnant earth, they surged from the teeming soil, and, what is even more wonderful, clashed weapons, created with them. The Pelasgians’ faces fell in fear, and their courage failed them, when they saw these warriors preparing to hurl their sharp spears, at the head of the Haemonian hero. She also, who had rendered him safe, was afraid. When she saw the solitary youth attacked by so many enemies, she grew pale, and sat there, suddenly cold and bloodless. And in case the herbs she had given him had not been potent enough, she chanted a spell to support them, and called on her secret arts.
He threw a boulder into the midst of his enemies, and this turned their attack, on him, against themselves. The earth-born brothers died at each other’s hands, and fell as in civil war. The Achaeans cheered, and clung to the victor, and hugged him in eager embraces. You also, princess among the Barbarians, longed to hold the victorious man: but modesty prevented it. Still, you might have held him, but concern for your reputation stopped you from doing so. What you might fittingly do you did, rejoicing silently, giving thanks, for your incantations, and the gods who inspired them.
The final task was to put the dragon to sleep with the magic drugs. Known for its crest, its triple tongues and curved fangs, it was the dread guardian of the tree’s gold. But when Jason had sprinkled it with the Lethean juice of a certain herb, and three times repeated the words that bring tranquil sleep, that calm the rough seas and turbulent rivers, sleep came to those sleepless eyes, and the heroic son of Aeson gained the Golden Fleece. Proud of his prize, and taking with him a further prize, the one who had helped him gain it, the hero, and his wife Medea, returned to the harbour at Iolchos.
Bk VII:159-178 Jason asks Medea to lengthen Aeson’s life
The elderly Haemonian mothers and fathers bring offerings to mark their sons’ return, and melt incense heaped in the flames. The sacrifice, with gilded horns, that they have dedicated, is led in and killed. But Aeson is absent from the rejoicing, now near death, and weary with the long years. Then Jason, his son, said ‘O my wife, to whom I confess I owe my life, though you have already given me everything, and the total of all your kindnesses is beyond any promises we made, let your incantations, if they can (what indeed can they not do?) reduce my own years and add them to my father’s!’ He could not restrain his tears. Medea was moved by the loving request, and the contrast with Aeetes, abandoned by her, came to mind. Yet, not allowing herself to be affected by such thoughts, she answered ‘Husband, what dreadful words have escaped your lips? Do you think I can transfer any part of your life to another? Hecate would not allow it: nor is yours a just request. But I will try to grant a greater gift than the one you ask for, Jason. If only the Triple Goddess will aid me, and give her assent in person to this great act of daring, I will attempt to renew your father’s length of years, without need for yours.’
Bk VII:179-233 Medea summons the powers and gathers herbs
Three nights were lacking before the moon’s horns met, to make their complete orb. When it was shining at its fullest, and gazed on the earth, with perfect form, Medea left the palace, dressed in unclasped robes. Her feet were bare, her unbound hair streamed down, over her shoulders, and she wandered, companionless, through midnight’s still silence. Men, beasts, and birds were freed in deep sleep. There were no murmurs in the hedgerows: the still leaves were silent, in silent, dew-filled, air. Only the flickering stars moved. Stretching her arms to them she three times turned herself about, three times sprinkled her head, with water from the running stream, three times let out a wailing cry, then knelt on the hard earth, and prayed:
‘Night, most faithful keeper of our secret rites;
Stars, that, with the golden moon, succeed the fires of light;
Triple Hecate, you who know all our undertakings,
and come, to aid the witches’ art, and all our incantations:
You, Earth, who yield the sorceress herbs of magic force:
You, airs and breezes, pools and hills, and every watercourse;
Be here; all you Gods of Night, and Gods of Groves endorse.
Streams, at will, by banks amazed, turn backwards to their source.
I calm rough seas, and stir the calm by my magic spells:
bring clouds, disperse the clouds, raise storms and storms dispel;
and, with my incantations, I break the serpent’s teeth;
and root up nature’s oaks, and rocks, from their native heath;
and move the forests, and command the mountain tops to shake,
earth to groan, and from their tombs the sleeping dead to wake.
You also, Luna, I draw down, eclipsed, from heaven’s stain,
though bronzes of Temese clash, to take away your pains;
and at my chant, the chariot of the Sun-god, my grandsire,
grows pale: Aurora, at my poisons, dims her morning fire.
You quench the bulls’ hot flame for me: force their necks to bow,
beneath the heavy yoke, that never pulled the curving plough:
You turn the savage warfare, born of the serpent’s teeth,
against itself, and lull the watcher, innocent of sleep;
that guard deceived, bring golden spoil, to the towns of Greece.
Now I need the juice by which old age may be renewed,
that can regain the prime of years, return the flower of youth,
and You will grant it. Not in vain, stars glittered in reply:
not in vain, winged dragons bring my chariot, through the sky.’
There, sent from the sky, was her chariot. When she had mounted, stroked the dragons’ bridled necks, and shaken the light reins in her hands, she was snatched up on high. She looked down on Thessalian Tempe far below, and sent the dragons to certain places that she knew. She considered those herbs that grow on Mount Ossa, those of Mount Pelion, Othrys and Pindus, and higher Olympus, and of those that pleased her, plucked some by the roots, and cut others, with a curved pruning-knife of bronze. Many she chose, as well, from the banks of the Apidanus. Many she chose, as well, from the Amphrysus. Nor did she omit the Enipeus. Peneus, and Spercheus’s waters gave something, and the reedy shores of Boebe. And at Anthedon, by Euboea, she picked a plant of long life, not yet famous for the change it made in Glaucus’s body.
Bk VII:234-293 Medea rejuvenates Aeson
Then she returned, after nine days and nine nights surveying all the lands she had crossed, from her chariot, drawn by the winged dragons. The dragons had only smelt the herbs, yet they shed their skins of many years. Reaching her door and threshold, she stopped on the outside, and under the open sky, avoiding contact with any man, she set up two altars of turf, one on the right to Hecate, one on the left to Youth. She wreathed them with sacred boughs from the wildwood, then dug two trenches near by in the earth, and performed the sacrifice, plunging her knife into the throat of a black-fleeced sheep, and drenching the wide ditches with blood. She poured over it cups of pure honey, and again she poured over it cups of warm milk, uttering words as she did so, calling on the spirits of the earth, and begging the shadowy king and his stolen bride, not to be too quick to steal life from the old man’s limbs.
When she had appeased the gods by prayer and murmured a while, she ordered Aeson’s exhausted body to be carried into the air, and freeing him to deep sleep with her spells, she stretched him out like a corpse on a bed of herbs. She ordered Jason, his son, to go far off, and the attendants to go far off, and warned them to keep profane eyes away from the mysteries. They went as she had ordered. Medea, with streaming hair, circled the burning altars, like a Bacchante, and dipping many-branched torches into the black ditches filled with blood, she lit them, once they were darkened, at the twin altars. Three times with fire, three times with water, three times with sulphur, she purified the old man.
Meanwhile a potent mixture is heating in a bronze cauldron set on the flames, bubbling, and seething, white with turbulent froth. She boils there, roots dug from a Thessalian valley, seeds, flowerheads, and dark juices. She throws in precious stones searched for in the distant east, and sands that the ebbing tide of ocean washes. She adds hoar-frost collected by night under the moon, the wings and flesh of a vile screech-owl, and the slavering foam of a sacrificed were-wolf, that can change its savage features to those of a man. She does not forget the scaly skin of a thin Cinyphian water-snake, the liver of a long-lived stag, the eggs and the head of a crow that has lived for nine human life-times.
With these, and a thousand other nameless things, the barbarian witch pursued her greater than mortal purpose. She stirred it all with a long-dry branch of a fruitful olive, mixing the depths with the surface. Look! The ancient staff turned in the hot cauldron, first grew green again, then in a short time sprouted leaves, and was, suddenly, heavily loaded with olives. And whenever the flames caused froth to spatter from the hollow bronze, and warm drops to fall on the earth, the soil blossomed, and flowers and soft grasses grew.
As soon as she saw this, Medea unsheathed a knife, and cut the old man’s throat, and letting the old blood out, filled the dry veins with the juice. When Aeson had absorbed it, part through his mouth, and part through the wound, the white of his hair and beard quickly vanished, and a dark colour took its place. At a stroke his leanness went, and his pallor and dullness of mind. The deep hollows were filled with rounded flesh, and his limbs expanded. Aeson marvelled, recalling that this was his self of forty years ago.
Bk VII:294-349 Medea’s destruction of Pelias
Bacchus saw this wondrous miracle from heaven’s heights, and realising from it, that the Nymphs of Mount Nysa, who had nursed him, could have their youth restored, he secured that gift from the witch of Colchis. There was no end to her magic. Phasian Medea, pretending to a sham quarrel with her husband, fled as a suppliant to Pelias’s threshold, he who had usurped Aeson’s throne. There, the king’s daughters received her, since he himself was weighed down by the years. The lying Colchian soon won them over by a skilful show of friendship, and when she told them of one of her greatest gifts, the removal of Aeson’s many years, and lingered over it, hope was aroused in Pelias’s daughters that similar magic arts might rejuvenate their father.
They begged her, and told her to set a price however great. She was silent for a moment, and appeared to hesitate, keeping the minds of her petitioners in suspense by a show of solemn pretence. When, eventually, she promised to do it, she said ‘To give you greater confidence in my gift, your oldest ram, the leader of your flocks, will by turned into a young lamb again, by my magic drugs.’ Straight away the woolly creature, worn out by innumerable years, was dragged forward, his horns curving round his hollow temples. When the witch had cut his wizened throat with her Thessalian knife, hardly staining the blade with blood, she immersed the sheep’s carcass in the bronze cauldron, along with her powerful magic herbs. These shrank its limbs, melted away its horns, and, with its horns, the years. A high-pitched bleating came from inside the vessel, and while they were wondering at the bleating, a lamb leapt out, and frisked away, seeking the udder and milk.
Pelias’s daughters were stunned, and now the truth of her promise had been displayed, they insisted even more eagerly. Three times Phoebus had unyoked his horses, after their plunge into the western ocean, and on the fourth night the stars were glittering in all their radiance, when the deceitful daughter of Aeetes set clear water, and herbs, but ineffectual ones, over a blazing fire. And now the king and his guards also were deep in death-like sleep, achieved by her incantations and the power of her magic spells. The king’s daughters, at her command, crossed the threshold, with the Colchian witch, and stood around his bed. ‘Why do you hesitate, so timidly?’ she said. ‘Un-sheath your blades, and let out the old blood, so that I can fill the empty veins with new! Your father’s life and youth are in your hands. If you have any filial affection, if those are not vain hopes that stir you, render your father this service, banish old age with your weapons, and drive out his poisoned blood with a stroke of the iron blade!’
Urged on by these words, the more love each had for him, the quicker she was to act without love, and did evil, to avoid greater evil. Nevertheless they could not bear to see their own blows, and turned their eyes away, and with averted faces, wounded him blindly with cruel hands. Streaming blood, the old man still raised himself on his elbow, and, though mutilated, tried to rise from his bed. Stretching his pallid hands out among the many weapons, he cried ‘Daughters, why are you doing this? What has made you take up weapons against your father’s life?’ Their strength and courage vanished. But as he was about to utter more words, the Colchian witch cut his throat, and plunged his torn body into the seething water.
Bk VII:350-403 Medea flees and reaches Athens
She would not have escaped punishment had she not taken to the air, with her winged dragons. Through the high sky, clockwise, she fled, over the shadowy slopes of Pelion, Chiron’s home; over Othrys and the places made famous by the ancient fate of Cerambus, who, aided by the nymphs and changed to a winged scarab beetle, lifted into the air, when the all-powerful sea drowned the solid earth, and so escaped un-drowned from Deucalion’s flood. She passed Aeolian Pitane on the left, with its huge stone serpent image, and Ida’s grove where Liber concealed, in the deceptive shape of a stag, the bullock stolen by his son. She passed the place where the father of Corythus, Paris, lay, buried under a little sand; and where Hecuba, changed to a black bitch of Hecate, Maera, spread terror through the fields with her strange barking.
She flew over Astypalaea, the city of Eurypylus, where the women of the island, of Cos, acquired horns when they abused Hercules, as he and his company departed: over Rhodes, beloved of Phoebus: and the Telchines of the city of Ialysos on Rhodes, whose eyes corrupted everything they looked on, so that Jupiter, disgusted with them, sank them under his brother’s ocean waves. She passed the walls of ancient Carthaea, on the island of Ceos, where Alcidamas, as a father, would marvel, one day, that a peace-loving dove could spring from the body of his daughter, Ctesylla.
Then she saw Lake Hyrie, and Cycnean Tempe, made famous suddenly by a swan. There Phylius, at the boy Cycnus’s command, brought him birds and a fierce lion he had tamed. Ordered to overcome a wild bull as well, he did overcome him, but angry that his love was rejected so often, he refused to grant this last gift of a bull, when asked. Cycnus, angered, said ‘You will wish you had’ and leapt from a high cliff. All thought he had fallen, but changed to a swan he beat through the air on white wings, though his mother, Hyrie, not knowing he was safe, pined away with weeping, and became the lake that carries her name.
Near there was the city of Pleuron, where Combe the daughter of Ophius, on flickering wings, escaped death at the hands of her sons, the Aetolian Curetes. And then Medea looked down at the fields of Calaurea’s isle, sacred to Leto, whose king and queen were also changed to birds. On her right was Cyllene, where Menephron lay with his mother, as though he were a wild beast. Further on she sees the Cephisus, the river-god lamenting his grandson’s fate, changed by Apollo into a lumbering seal, and the home of Eumelus, mourning his son Botres, reborn as a bird, the bee-eater, in the air.
At last, the dragon’s wings brought her to Corinth, the ancient Ephyre, and its Pirenian spring. Here, tradition says, that in earliest times, human bodies sprang from fungi, swollen by rain. After Jason’s new bride Glauce had been consumed by the fires of vengeful Colchian witchcraft and both the Isthmus’s gulfs had witnessed flame consuming the king’s palace, Medea impiously bathed her sword in the blood of their sons. Then, after performing this evil act, she fled from Jason’s wrath. Carried by her dragons that are born of the Titans, she reached Pallas’s citadel of Athens. This once knew you Phene, the most righteous, and you old Periphas, both flying in the air, as birds, the eagle and the osprey: and Alcyone, granddaughter of Polypemon, resting on strange new wings. It was Aegeus who gave Medea sanctuary there, damned thereafter by that one action: and not content with taking her in, he even entered into a contract of marriage with her.
Bk VII:404-424 Medea attempts Theseus’s life, then vanishes
Now Theseus came to Athens, Aegeus’s son, but as yet unknown to him. He, by his courage, had brought peace to the Isthmus between the two gulfs. Medea, seeking his destruction, prepared a mixture of poisonous aconite, she had brought with her from the coast of Scythia. This poison is said to have dripped from the teeth of Cerberus, the Echidnean dog. There is a dark cavern with a gaping mouth, and a path into the depths, up which Hercules, hero of Tiryns, dragged the dog, tied with steel chains, resisting and twisting its eyes away from the daylight and the shining rays. Cerberus, provoked to a rabid frenzy, filled all the air with his simultaneous three-headed howling, and spattered the green fields with white flecks of foam. These are supposed to have congealed and found food to multiply, gaining harmful strength from the rich soil. Because they are long-lived, springing from the hard rock, the country people call these shoots, of wolf-bane, ‘soil-less’ aconites. Through his wife’s cunning Aegeus, the father, himself offered the poison to his son, as if he were a stranger. Theseus, unwittingly, had taken the cup he was given in his right hand, when his father recognised the emblems of his own house, on the ivory hilt of his son’s sword, and knocked the evil drink away from his mouth. But she escaped death, in a dark mist, raised by her incantations.
SHORT FOREWORD TO EURIPEDES MEDEA
Jason was born the son of Aeson, in Iolcus. When his father lost the kingship, Jason was secretly given the famous centaur Chiron, who raised him. As a young man Jason returned to Iolcus. The king, Pelias (the man who had deprived Aeson of the kingship) was afraid that Jason would usurp him, so he persuaded Jason to set off on an expedition to capture the Golden Fleece, the pure gold skin of a ram which was in a sacred grove in Colchis (a barbarian region to the east of the Euxine Sea, the Greek name for the Black Sea), where it was guarded by a dragon.
Jason put together a band of adventurers called the Argonauts, among whom were some major figures of Greek mythology (e.g., Hercules, Orpheus). They took their name from the ship they sailed in, the Argo. The heroes had a number of adventures on the way to Colchis, including passing through the legendary Clashing Rocks (the Symplegades). Upon arrival in Colchis, King Aeetes set them a number of tasks, including yoking two fire-breathing bulls, ploughing a field with them, sowing the field with teeth from the dragon of Cadmus, and then fighting against the warriors who arose from the sown teeth.
To complete these tasks Jason enlisted the help of Medea, daughter of King Aeetes. She fell in love with Jason and helped him with her magic to complete the tasks set by Aeetes and to steal the Golden Fleece. She then escaped with Jason, killing her brother in order to scatter his body on the sea so that Aeetes would have to hold up his pursuit of Jason and Medea. In order to understand Euripides’ play, it is essential to recognize that Medea, in addition to being a female with magical powers, is also a barbarian (i.e., non-Greek).
Jason and Medea returned to Iolcus, where Medea’s magic restored Jason’s father, Aeson, to youthful health. Medea also persuaded the daughters of King Pelias to kill their father by giving them ineffective medications and persuading them to try a course of treatment which was fatal.
When Jason and Medea moved to Corinth, Jason abandoned her in order to marry Glauce, daughter of the king, Creon. Medea’s revenge is the subject of Euripides’ play. In order to protect herself, Medea arranged a secure haven for herself with Aegeus, king of Athens. Medea then killed Glauce and Creon and her own two children (who are not named in the play).
Subsequently, Medea moved to Athens and married Aegeus, the king. But she became jealous of Aegeus’ son Theseus. She then returned to Colchis. Jason’s life ended when he was hit by part of the stern of the Argo as he lay asleep under it.
The adventures of the Argonauts formed a fecund source for Greek story-tellers, poets, dramatists, and painters. Jason’s various love affairs have also made their way into many fictions. And Medea has always been a popular figure in fiction and drama.
Nurse: a servant of Medea.
Tutor: a servant assigned to Jason’s children.
Medea: wife of Jason.
Chorus: a group of Corinthian women.
Creon: king of Corinth.
Jason: husband of Medea.
Aegeus: king of Athens.
Messenger: a servant of Jason’s.
Children: Medea’s and Jason’s two young sons.
Attendants on Creon and Jason.
[Outside the home of Jason and Medea in Corinth. The Nurse, a slave who serves Medea, is standing by herself]
Oh how I wish that ship the Argo
had never sailed off to the land of Colchis,
past the Symplegades, those dark dancing rocks
which smash boats sailing through the Hellespont.
I wish they’d never chopped the pine trees down
in those mountain forests up on Pelion,
to make oars for the hands of those great men
who set off, on Pelias’ orders,
to fetch the golden fleece. Then my mistress,
Medea, never would’ve sailed away
to the towers in the land of Iolcus,
her heart passionately in love with Jason.
She’d never have convinced those women,
Pelias’ daughters, to kill their father.
She’d not have come to live in Corinth here,
with her husband and her children—well loved
in exile by those whose land she’d moved to.
She gave all sorts of help to Jason.
That’s when life is most secure and safe,
when woman and her husband stand as one.
But that marriage changed. Now they’re enemies.
Their fine love’s grown sick, diseased, for Jason,
leaving his own children and my mistress,
is lying on a royal wedding bed.
He’s married the daughter of king Creon,
who rules this country. As for Medea,
that poor lady, in her disgrace, cries out,
repeating his oaths, recalling the great trust
in that right hand with which he pledged his love.
She calls out to the gods to witness
how Jason is repaying her favours.
She just lies there. She won’t eat—her body
she surrenders to the pain, wasting away,
always in tears, ever since she found out
how her husband has dishonoured her.
She’s not lifted her eyes up from the ground,
or raised her head. She listens to advice,
even from friends, as if she were a stone,
or the ocean swell, except now and then
she twists that white neck of hers and weeps,
crying to herself for her dear father, her home,
her own land, all those things she left behind,
to come here with the man who now discards her.
Her suffering has taught her the advantages
of not being cut off from one’s own homeland.
Now she hates her children. When she sees them,
there is no joy in her. And I’m afraid
she may be up to some new mischief.
Her mind thinks in extremes. I know her well.
She’ll not put up with being treated badly.
I worry she may pick up a sharp sword
and stab her stomach, or else she’ll go
into the house, in silence, to that bed,
and kill the king and bridegroom Jason.
Then she’ll face an even worse disaster.
She’s a dangerous woman. It won’t be easy
for any man who picks a fight with her
to think she’s beaten and he’s triumphed.
[Enter Medea’s and Jason’s children with their Tutor]
Here come her children. They’ve finished playing.
They’ve no notion of their mother’s troubles.
Young minds don’t like to dwell on pain.
Old slave from my mistress’ household,
why are you here, standing by the gate,
all alone, complaining to yourself
about what’s wrong? How come Medea
is willing to stay inside without you?
Old servant of Jason’s children,
when a master’s lot falls out badly,
that’s bad for faithful servants, too—
it touches their hearts also. My sorrow
was so great, I wanted to come here,
to speak to earth and heaven, to tell them
about the wrongs inflicted on my mistress.
Unhappy lady! Has she stopped weeping yet?
Stopped crying? I envy your ignorance.
Her suffering has only just begun—
she’s not even half way through it.
if I can speak that way about my masters—
she knows nothing of her latest troubles.
What’s that, old man? Don’t spare me the news.
Nothing. I’m sorry I said anything.
Come on, don’t hide it from a fellow slave.
I can keep quiet if I have to.
Well, I was passing by those benches
where the old men gamble by Peirene,
at the holy spring, and I heard someone say
(I was pretending I wasn’t listening)
that Creon, king of this country, intends
to ship the children away from Corinth,
with their mother, too. I’ve no idea
if the story’s true or not. I hope it’s not.
But surely Jason wouldn’t let his children
go into exile, even if he’s squabbling
with their mother?
Old devotions fade,
pushed aside by new relationships.
Jason is no friend of people in this house.
If we must add these brand-new troubles
to our old ones, before we’ve dealt with them,
then we’re finished.
But listen—the time’s not right
to let your mistress know about these things.
So keep quiet. Don’t mention anything.
Children, do you hear what sort of man
your father is to you? My curse on him!
No. He is my master—but a bad man
to his own family. Of that he’s guilty.
What mortal man is not? Don’t you know yet
all men love themselves more than their neighbours.
And some are right to do that—while others
just want some benefit. But this father,
with his new wife, has no love for his children.
Come on, children, get inside the house.
Things will be fine. [To the Tutor] You must keep them away—
as far as possible—and don’t bring them
near their mother when she’s in this state.
I’ve seen her look at them with savage eyes,
as if she means to injure them somehow.
I know this anger of hers will not end,
not before she turns it loose on someone.
I hope it falls on enemies, not on friends!
MEDEA [crying from inside the house]
I can’t stand this pain, this misery.
What do I do? I wish I could die!
My dear children, you hear your mother’s cry.
Her heart’s upset. Her anger’s growing, too.
So quickly now, run off inside the house.
Stay out of sight. Don’t try to go and see her.
She’s fierce, headstrong by nature. Take care.
So go now—inside as quickly as you can.
[The Tutor and children enter the house]
It’s obvious the cloud of bitter grief
rising inside her is only just the start.
As her temper grows even more intense,
it will soon catch fire. She’s a passionate soul,
hard to restrain. What will she do next,
now her heart’s been bitten by these injuries?
MEDEA [from inside the house]
The pain of this suffering—this intense pain.
Am I not right to weep? Oh my children,
cursed children of a hateful mother—
may you die with your father, all his house,
may it all perish, crash down in ruins.
Oh the sorrow of it all. Poor woman!
Why link your children with the nasty things
their father’s done? Why do you hate them so?
I’m terrified the children will be hurt.
The pride of rulers is something to fear—
they often order men, but seldom listen.
And when their tempers change it’s hard to bear.
It’s better to get used to living life
as an equal common person. Anyway,
I don’t want a grand life for myself—
just to grow old with some security.
They say a moderate life’s the best of all,
a far better choice for mortal men.
Going for too much brings no benefits.
And when gods get angry with some home,
the more wealth it has, the more it is destroyed.
[Enter the Chorus of Corinthian women]
I heard her voice, I heard the cries
of that sad lady here from Colchis.
Has she not calmed down yet? Old nurse, tell me.
I heard from some household servant in there
that she’s been screaming. I find no pleasure
in this house’s suffering. We’ve been friends.
This house is finished—already done for.
For Jason’s bound by his new marriage tie
to the king’s daughter. As for my mistress,
her tears are washing away her life in there,
inside the house. She finds no consolation
in the words of any of her friends.
MEDEA [still from inside the house]
Oh why can’t a bolt of lightning strike me?
What point is there in living any more?
I want death to come and sweep me off—
let me escape this life of suffering!
Oh Zeus and Earth and Sun—
do you hear how this young wife
sings out her misery?
why long for death’s marriage bed
which human beings all shun?
Death comes soon enough
and brings and end to everything.
You should not pray for it.
And if your husband
devotes himself to some new bed,
why get angry over that?
Zeus will plead for you in this.
Don’t waste your life away,
with too much wailing for your husband.
O great Themis and noble Artemis,
do you see what I am having to endure,
when I’m the one who bound that cursed man,
my husband, with strong promises to me?
Oh, how I want to see him and his bride
beaten down, destroyed—their whole house as well—
for these wrongs they dare inflict on me,
when I’ve done nothing to provoke them!
O father and city, I left you behind
in my disgrace when I killed my brother.
Do you hear what’s she’s saying, how she calls
to Themis, who hears our prayers, and Zeus,
who guards, they say, the promises men swear.
She’s bound to do something quite serious
before this rage of hers comes to an end.
I wish she’d let us see her face to face
and listen to what we have to tell her.
That might calm down her savage temper,
the fury in her heart. I’d like the chance
to show good will to a lady whom I like.
Go now—bring her here outside the house.
Tell her she’ll be among some friends of hers.
And hurry, before she harms someone in there—
that power in her grief will make her act.
All right, though I’m afraid I won’t persuade
my mistress. Still, as a favour to you,
I’ll see what I can do. Right now she glares
at servants when they come close to her
to tell her something. She’s like a bull,
or lioness with cubs—that’s how she looks.
Those men from long ago—you’d not be wrong
to call them fools without much wisdom.
They thought up songs for celebrations,
feasts and banquets, bringing to human life
delightful music. But they found nothing
in music or the lyre’s many strings
to end the bitterness of human life,
the pain in living, sorrows bringing on
the deaths and horrifying disasters
which destroy whole families. What a blessing
it would be for human beings if music
could cure these sorrows. When people feast,
why should people sing? It’s a waste of time.
People who eat well are happy anyway—
they’ve enjoyed the pleasure of the meal.
[Nurse exits into the house]
I have heard Medea’s crying,
full of sorrow, full of tears,
her shrill accusations against Jason,
the husband who’s betrayed her.
Suffering such injustice, she cries out,
calling the gods—calling Themis,
Zeus’ daughter, goddess of those promises
which carried her across the ocean
to Hellas, through the black salt seas,
through the place which few men penetrate,
the strait which guards the Pontic Sea.
[Enter Medea with the Nurse]
Women of Corinth, I’m coming here,
outside the house, so you won’t think ill of me.
Many men, I know, become too arrogant,
both in the public eye and in their homes.
Others get a reputation for indifference,
because they stay at ease within the house.
There’s no justice in the eyes of mortal men.
Before they know someone’s deep character,
they hate her on sight, though she’s not hurt them.
A guest of the city must comply, of course,
act as the city wants. I don’t commend
a stubborn man, not even a citizen,
who thanks to his stupidity annoys
his fellow townsmen. But in my case,
this unexpected blow that’s hit me,
well, it’s destroyed my heart. My life is gone,
dear friends. I’ve lost all joy. I want to die.
The man who was everything to me,
my own husband, has turned out to be
the worst of men. This I know is true.
Of all things with life and understanding,
we women are the most unfortunate.
First, we need a husband, someone we get
for an excessive price. He then becomes
the ruler of our bodies. And this misfortune
adds still more troubles to the grief we have.
Then comes the crucial struggle: this husband
we’ve selected, is he good or bad?
For a divorce loses women all respect,
yet we can’t refuse to take a husband.
Then, when she goes into her husband’s home,
with its new rules and different customs,
she needs a prophet’s skill to sort out the man
whose bed she shares. She can’t learn that at home.
Once we’ve worked hard at this, and with success,
our husband accepts the marriage yoke
and lives in peace—an enviable life.
But if the marriage doesn’t work, then death
is much to be preferred. When the man tires
of the company he keeps at home, he leaves,
seeking relief for his distress elsewhere,
outside the home. He gets his satisfaction
with some male friend or someone his own age.
We women have to look at just one man.
Men tell us we live safe and secure at home,
while they must go to battle with their spears.
How stupid they are! I’d rather stand there
three times in battle holding up my shield
than give birth once. But your story and mine
are not the same. For you have a city,
you have your father’s house, enjoy your life
with friends for company. But I’m alone.
I have no city, and I’m being abused
by my own husband. I was carried off,
a trophy from a barbarian country.
I have no mother, brother, or relation,
to shelter with in this extremity.
And so I want to ask something from you.
If I find some way to punish Jason
for these injustices, and his bride, as well,
and father, too, say nothing. In other things
a woman may be timid—in watching battles
or seeing steel, but when she’s hurt in love,
her marriage violated, there’s no heart
more desperate for blood than hers.
I’ll do what you request. For you are right
to pay back your husband. And, Medea,
I’m not surprised you grieve at these events.
[Enter Creon, with armed attendants]
I see Creon, king of Corinth, coming.
He’ll be bringing news, announcing
some new decision that’s been made.
You there, Medea, scowling in anger
against your husband. I’m ordering you
out of Corinth. You must go into exile,
and take those two children of yours with you.
Go quickly. I’m here to make quite sure
that this decree is put into effect.
I’ll not go back to my own palace
until I’ve cast you out, beyond our borders.
Oh, now my sufferings will kill me. It’s over.
My enemies have set full sail against me,
and there’s no way I can avert disaster.
But, Creon, let me ask you something—
I’m the one abused, so why banish me?
What have I done?
I’m afraid of you.
I won’t conceal the truth. There’s a good chance
you might well instigate some fatal harm
against my daughter. Many things lead me
to this conclusion: you’re a clever woman,
very experienced in evil ways;
you’re grieving the loss of your husband’s bed;
and from reports I hear you’re making threats
to take revenge on Jason, on his bride,
and on her father. Before that happens,
I’m taking some precautions. Woman,
it’s better that you hate me, than for me
to grow soft now and then regret it later.
Alas, this is not the first time, Creon,
my reputation has badly damaged me.
It’s happened often. No man with any sense
should ever educate his children
to know anything beyond what’s normal.
Quite apart from charges of idleness
which other people bring against them,
they stir up in their fellow citizens
a hostile envy. If you offer fools
some brand new wisdom, they’ll consider you
quite useless, not someone wise. And if,
within the city, people think of you
as greater than those men who seem quite wise,
you’ll appear a nuisance. So it is with me.
For I’m a knowledgeable woman. I make
some people envious. Others say I’m shy.
Some the opposite. Some say I’m hostile.
I’m not that clever, but still you fear me.
Have I hurt you at all, made you suffer?
Don’t fear me, Creon. It’s not in me
to commit crimes against the men in charge.
Besides, in what way have you injured me?
You’ve married your daughter to a man,
one your heart selected. My husband’s
the one I hate. In my view, you’ve acted
with good sense in this business. So now,
I’ll not begrudge you your prosperity.
Have your marriage, and good luck to you.
But let me remain here, in this country.
Although I’ve suffered an injustice,
I’ll obey the rulers and stay silent.
What you say sounds comforting enough,
but I’m still afraid that heart of yours
is planning something evil. At this point,
I trust you even less than previously.
Passionate people, women as well as men,
are easier to protect oneself against,
than someone clever who keeps silent.
No. You must leave—and right away.
No more speeches. I’ve made up my mind.
It’s not possible for you to stay here,
not with us, given your hostility to me.
MEDEA [kneeling in front of Creon]
No, don’t send me away. I’m begging you,
at your knee, in your daughter’s name.
Your words are useless. You won’t persuade me.
You’ll send me into exile without hearing
Indeed I will.
I don’t love you more than my own family.
O my homeland! How I’m thinking of you now.
Except for my own children, my country
is what I cherish most by far.
love’s a miserable thing for mortal men.
I think events determine if that’s true.
O Zeus, don’t overlook who bears the blame
for all this evil.
It’s time to leave,
you foolish woman. Time to rid myself
of all this trouble.
We have trouble enough—
There’s no need for any more.
or my servants will throw you into exile.
No, don’t do that. I beg you, Creon . . .
[Medea seizes Creon’s hand]
Woman, it seems you’re trying to provoke me.
All right then. I will go into exile.
I wasn’t begging to escape from that.
Then why squeeze my hand so hard and not let go?
Let me remain here one day to prepare,
to get ready for my exile, to provide
something for my children, since their father,
as one more insult, does nothing for them.
Have pity on them. You’re a parent, too.
You should treat them kindly—that’s what’s right.
If I go into exile, I don’t care,
but I weep for them in their misfortune.
For a tyrant my will is by nature tender,
and by feeling pity I’ve been hurt before,
more than once. And now, woman, I see
I’m making a mistake, for you can have
your extra day. But let me warn you—
if the sun catches you tomorrow
within the borders of this country,
you or your children, you’ll be put to death.
Don’t think I’m not telling you the truth.
So, if you must remain, stay one more day.
In that time you can’t do the harm I fear.
[Exit Creon with his attendants]
Alas for you, unfortunate woman—
how wretched your distress. Where will you turn?
Where will you find someone to take you in?
What country, what home will you find yourself
to save you from misfortunes?
Things have worked out badly in every way.
Who can deny the fact? But nonetheless,
you should not assume that’s how things will stay.
The newly wedded pair still face some struggles,
and the man who made this marriage happen
might have serious problems yet. Do you think
I’d prostrate myself before a man like that,
if there was no advantage to be gained?
If I didn’t have some plan in mind,
I’d not have talked to him or grabbed his hand.
But the man’s become completely foolish—
when he had the power to prevent me
from planning anything, by sending me
out of his land, he let me stay one day,
a day when I’ll turn three of my enemies
to corpses—father, daughter, and my husband.
Now, I can slaughter them in many ways.
I’m not sure which one to try out first.
Perhaps I should set the bridal suite on fire,
or sneak into the house in silence,
right up to their marriage bed, and plunge
some sharpened steel right through their guts.
There’s just one problem. If I get caught
going in their house, meaning to destroy it,
I’ll be killed, and my enemies will laugh.
No. The best method is the most direct,
the one at which I have a special skill—
I’ll murder them with poison. Yes, that’s it.
But once they’re dead, what city will receive me?
Who’ll give me safe shelter as a guest,
and offer me physical protection?
There’s no one. Still, I’ll wait a little while.
If someone shows up who can shield me,
I’ll set my scheme in motion and kill them
without saying a word. But if events
force me to act openly, I’ll use a sword.
Even though it will bring about my death,
I’ll push my daring to the very limit
and slaughter them. By Hecate, the goddess
I worship more than all the others,
the one I choose to help me in this work,
who lives with me deep inside my home,
these people won’t bring pain into my heart
and laugh about it. This wedding of theirs,
I’ll make it hateful for them, a disaster—
Creon’s marriage ties, my exile from here,
he’ll find those bitter. So come, Medea,
call on all those things you know so well,
as you plan this and set it up. Let the work,
this deadly business, start. It’s a test of wills.
You see what you have to put up with.
You must not let Jason’s marriage make you
a laughing stock among Corinthians,
compatriots of Sisyphus, for you
trace your family from a noble father
and from Helios, the sun. So get to work.
Besides, we have a woman’s nature—
powerless to perform fine noble deeds,
but very skilled in all the forms of evil.
The waters in the sacred rivers
are flowing in reverse.
And all well-ordered things
are once more turning on themselves.
Men’s plans are now deceitful,
their firm trust in the gods is gone.
My life is changing—common talk
is giving me a better reputation.
Honour’s coming to the female sex.
Slander will no longer injure women.
Those songs by ancient poets
will stop chanting of our faithlessness.
Phoebus, god of song and singing,
never put into our minds the gift
of making sacred music with the lyre,
or else I would have sung a song
in response to what the male sex sings.
For our lengthy past has much to say
about men’s lives as well as ours
You sailed here from your father’s house,
your heart on fire, past those two rocks
that stand guard to the Euxine Sea.
You live now in a foreign land.
You’ve lost your marriage bed,
your husband, too, poor woman.
And now you’re driven out,
hounded into exile in disgrace.
The honour in an oath has gone.
And all throughout wide Hellas
there’s no shame any more.
Shame has flown away to heaven.
So to you, unhappy lady,
no father’s house is open,
no haven on your painful voyage.
For now a stronger woman
rules in your household,
queen of his marriage bed.
Right now is not the first time I’ve observed
how a harsh temper makes all things worse—
impossibly so. It’s happened often.
You could’ve stayed here in this land and house,
if only you’d agreed to the arrangements,
showed some patience with those in command.
Now you’re exiled for your stupid chatter.
Not that I care. You don’t have to stop
calling Jason the worst man in the world.
But when you speak against the ruler here,
consider yourself very fortunate
that exile is your only punishment.
I’ve always tried to mollify the king—
he has a vicious temper—and have you stay.
But you just wouldn’t stop this silly rage,
always slandering the royal house.
That’s why you’ve got to leave the country.
Anyway, I won’t neglect my family.
I’ve come here, woman, looking out for you,
so you won’t be thrown out with the children
in total need and lacking everything.
Exile brings with it all sorts of hardships.
Although you may well despise me now,
I could never have bad feelings for you.
As a man you’re the worst there is—that’s all
I’ll say about you, no trace of manhood.
You come to me now, you come at this point,
when you’ve turned into the worst enemy
of the gods and me and the whole human race?
It isn’t courage or firm resolution
to hurt your family and then confront them,
face to face, but a total lack of shame,
the greatest of all human sicknesses.
But you did well to come, for I will speak.
I’ll unload my heart, describe your evil.
You listen. I hope you’re hurt by what I say.
I’ll begin my story at the very start.
I saved your life—every Greek who sailed with you
on board that ship the Argo can confirm it—
when you’d been sent to bring under the yoke
the fire-breathing bulls, and then to sow
the fields of death. And I killed the dragon
guarding the Golden Fleece, coiled up there,
staying on watch and never going to sleep.
For you I raised the light which rescued you
from death. I left my father and my home,
on my own, and came with you to Iolcus,
beneath Mount Pelion. My love for you
was greater than my wisdom. Then I killed
Pelias in the most agonizing way,
at the hands of his own daughters,
and then destroyed his household, all of it.
Now, after I’ve done all this to help you,
you brute, you betray me and help yourself
to some new wife. And we have children!
If you’d had no children, I’d understand
why you’re so keen on marrying this girl.
And what about the promises you made?
I don’t know if you think the ancient gods
still govern, or if new regulations
have recently been put in place for men,
but you must know you’ve broken faith with me.
By this right hand, which you have often held,
and by my knees, at which you’ve often begged,
it was all for nothing to be touched like that,
by such a worthless man. I’ve lost all hope.
But come now. I’ll sort things out with you,
as if you were a friend. I’ve no idea
what sort of kindness to expect from you.
But let’s see. The things I’ll ask about
will make you look even more disgraceful.
Where do I now turn? To my father’s house?
For your sake I betrayed my country,
to come here with you. Then should I go
to Pelias’ daughters in their misery?
They’d surely welcome me with open arms,
since I killed their father. That’s how things stand.
To my family I’m now an enemy,
and by assisting you I declared war
on those whom I had no need to injure.
For all the ways I’ve helped you, you made me,
in the eyes of many wives in Greece,
a lucky woman, blessed in many things.
But what a wonderful and trusting husband
I have in you now, in my misfortune,
if I go into exile, leave this land,
with no friends, all alone, abandoned,
with my abandoned children. And for you,
what a fine report for a new bridegroom,
his children wandering round like vagabonds
with the very woman who saved his life.
O Zeus, why did you give men certain ways
to recognize false gold, when there’s no mark,
no token on the human body,
to indicate which men are worthless.
When members of a family fight like this,
rage pushes them beyond all compromise.
Woman, it seems I’ll need to give good reasons,
and, like a skilled helmsman on a ship,
haul in my sails and run before that storm
blowing from your raving tongue. In my view,
you overestimate your favours to me.
I consider goddess Aphrodite
the only one of gods or mortal men
who saved my expedition. As for you,
well, you’ve a subtle mind. But if I told
how Eros with his unerring arrows
forced you to save me, I could injure you.
So I won’t press the matter very far.
However you helped me, you did it well.
But by saving me you got in return
more than you gave, as I will demonstrate.
First of all, you now live among the Greeks,
not in a country of barbarians.
You’re familiar with justice and the laws,
rather than brute force. Besides, all the Greeks
know that you’re clever, so you’ve earned yourself
a fine reputation. If you still lived
out there at the boundary of the world,
no one would talk about you. And great fame
I’d sooner have than houses filled with gold,
or the power to sing sweet melodies,
sweeter than all the songs of Orpheus.
That’s my response to you about my labours.
Remember you started this war of words.
As for your complaints about this marriage,
I’ll show you that in this I’m being wise,
and moderate, and very friendly to you,
and to my children. You must have patience.
When I came here from the land of Iolcus,
I brought with me many troubles, hard ones,
things impossible for me to deal with.
What greater good fortune could I have found
than marrying the daughter of the king,
me—an exile? On the point that irks you,
it’s not the case I hate our marriage bed,
overcome with lust for some new bride,
nor am I keen to rival other men
in the number of my many children.
We have enough. I’m not complaining.
The most important thing for us to do
is to live well and not in poverty,
knowing that everyone avoids a friend
once he’s a pauper. As for my children,
I want to raise them in the proper way,
one worthy of my house, to have brothers
for the children born from you, and make them
all the same. Thus, with a united family
I might prosper. Do you need more children?
In my case, there’s some benefit to have
new children to help those already born.
Was this a bad scheme? You’d agree with me,
if you weren’t so upset about the sex.
But you women are so idiotic—
you think if everything is fine in bed,
you have all you need, but if the sex is bad,
then all the very best and finest things
you make your enemies. What mortals need
is some other way to get our children.
There should be no female sex. With that,
men would be rid of all their troubles.
Jason, your reasons here seem logical,
but it strikes me, if I may presume,
you’re in the wrong abandoning your wife.
I’m very different from many others,
in all sorts of ways—in my opinion,
the unjust man who speaks so plausibly
brings on himself the harshest punishment.
Since he’s sure his tongue can hide injustice,
he dares anything. But he’s not that clever.
So you should not parade before me now
your clever words and specious reasoning.
One word demolishes your argument:
if you were not corrupt, you’d ask me first,
get my consent to undertake this marriage,
but you didn’t even tell your family.
Oh yes, if I’d told you of the wedding,
I’m sure you would have lent me fine support.
Even now you can’t stand to set aside
that huge rage in your heart.
You thought as you grew old a barbarian wife
would bring you disrespect.
Get this straight—
this royal bride I have, I didn’t marry her
because of any woman. As I told you,
I wanted to save you and have children,
royal princes, with the same blood as my sons.
That way my house has more security.
May I never want a merely prosperous life,
accepting pain or great wealth at the expense
of happiness here in my heart.
Do you think
you can change that prayer and sound more sensible?
You should not consider this advantage
painful, or pretend to be so wretched
when things are going well for you.
Keep up the insults. You have your refuge.
I’m alone and banished from this country.
That’s what you’ve chosen. The blame rests with you.
What did I do? Marry and desert you?
You kept making all those bitter curses
against the ruling family here.
And I’m a curse against your family, too.
I’m not arguing with you any more
about all this. But if you want me
to provide some money, some assistance
for you and the children in your exile,
just ask. I’m prepared to give you some,
and with a generous hand. I’ll send my friends
introductory tokens, so they’ll treat you well.
You’d be mad not to accept this offer.
Woman, stop being so angry. If you do,
things will turn out so much better for you.
I’ll accept no assistance from your friends,
nor anything from you. Don’t make the offer.
Gifts from a worthless man are without value.
All right, but I call the gods to witness
I’m willing to help you and the children.
But you reject my goods and stubbornly
push away your friends, and that the reason
you suffer still more pain.
Get out of here.
For someone so in love with his new bride
you’re spending far too long outside her home.
Go act married. The gods will see to it
your marriage will change into one of those
which makes you wish you’d turned it down.
Love with too much passion
brings with it no fine reputation,
brings nothing virtuous to men.
But if Aphrodite comes in smaller doses,
no other god is so desirable.
Goddess, I pray you never strike me
with one of those poisoned arrows
shot from that golden bow of yours.
I pray that moderation,
the gods’ most beautiful gift,
will always guide me.
I pray that Aphrodite
never packs my heart with jealousy
or angry quarreling.
May she never fill me with desire
for sex in other people’s beds.
May she bless peaceful unions,
using her wisdom to select
a woman’s marriage bed.
O my country and my home,
I pray I never lack a city,
never face a hopeless life,
one filled with misery and pain.
Before that comes, let death,
my death, deliver me,
bring my days to their fatal end.
For there’s no affliction worse
than losing one’s own country.
I say on this based on what I’ve seen,
not on what other people say.
For you are here without a city—
you have no friends to pity you,
as you suffer in this misery,
suffer in the harshest way.
The man who shames his family,
who doesn’t open up his heart
and treat them in all honesty—
may he perish unlamented.
With him I never could be friends.
[Enter Aegeus, King of Athens]
I wish you all happiness, Medea.
There’s no better way to greet one’s friends.
All happiness to you, too, Aegeus,
wise Pandion’s son. Where are you coming from?
I’ve just left Apollo’s ancient oracle.
The prophetic centre of the earth?
What business took you there?
To ask a question.
I want to know how I can have some children.
In the gods’ name, have you lived so long
without ever having any children?
Not one. Some god is doing this to me.
Do you have a wife? Or have you stayed unmarried?
No, I’m married. My wife shares my bed.
So what did Apollo say about it?
Words too wise for human understanding.
It is appropriate for me to learn them?
Of course. They need a clever mind like yours.
What was the prophecy? Tell it to me—
if it’s all right for me to hear.
He told me this:
“Don’t untie the wineskin’s foot. . .
Until you do what or reach what country?
“. . . until you come back to your hearth and home.”
What were you looking for when you sailed here?
A man called Pittheus, king of Troezen.
He’s Pelops’ son. They say he’s a very holy man.
I want to share the god’s prophecy with him.
He’s a wise man and skilled in things like that.
And the friendliest of all my allies.
Well, good luck. I hope you find what you desire.
Why are your eyes so sad, your cheeks so pale?
O Aegeus, my husband has been cruel—
of all men he’s treated me the worst.
What are you saying? Tell me truly—
what things have made you so unhappy?
Jason’s abusing me. I’ve done him no harm.
What has he done? Give me more details.
He’s taken a new wife. She now rules his home,
instead of me.
That’s completely shameful.
He hasn’t dared something like that, has he?
Indeed, he has. He’s dishonored me, the wife
he used to love.
Is this a new love affair,
or did he get fed up with you in bed?
A new love match—he’s betrayed his family.
Leave him, then, since, as you say, he’s worthless.
His passion is to marry royalty.
Who’s giving her to him? Tell me the rest.
Creon, who rules this land of Corinth.
Then, lady, it’s quite understandable
why you’re in such distress.
I’m done for, finished.
I’m being banished from this country.
By whom? You’re speaking now of some new trouble.
Creon is driving me out into exile,
shipping me off, away from Corinth.
With Jason’s full consent? I find that disgraceful.
He says not. Still, he’s planning to accept it.
But, Aegeus, I beg you by your beard,
and at your knees implore you—have pity.
Take pity on me in my misfortune.
Don’t let me be exiled without a friend.
Accept me as a suppliant in your home,
your native land. If you will take me in,
may the gods then answer your desire
to have children. May you die a happy man.
You don’t know what a lucky one you are
to find me here. I’ll end your childlessness.
I know the sorts of medicines to use,
and I can help you have many children.
Lady, I’d like to grant this favour to you,
for many reasons. First, there’s the gods.
Then, for the children you say I’ll produce.
For there I’ve lost all sense of what to try.
Here’s what I’ll do. If you get to my country,
I’ll strive to treat you as a foreign guest—
that’s the proper thing for me to do.
But, Medea, I’ll give you fair warning:
I won’t plot to get you out of Corinth.
If you can reach my household on your own,
you may stay there in safety. Rest assured—
I won’t surrender you to anyone.
But you must make your own escape from here.
I don’t want my hosts finding fault with me.
That’s fine with me. If you could promise this,
you’d have done me all the good you can.
Don’t you trust me? What in this still bothers you?
I do trust you. But the house of Pelias
dislikes me, and so does Creon’s, too.
If you bind yourself to a promise now,
you’ll not hand me over when they come,
seeking to remove me from your country.
If you use words, and don’t swear by the gods,
you may become their friend and then comply
with their political demands. I’m weak,
and they have wealth, a king’s resources.
What you’ve just said is very shrewd. All right,
if it’s what you want, I’m not unwilling
to do what you require. Your proposal
gives me some security. I can show
those hostile to you I’ve a good excuse.
And it makes your position safer.
Tell me the gods that I should swear by.
Swear by the plain of Earth, by Helios,
my father’s father, by the family of gods,
by all of them collectively.
what I must swear to do and not to do.
Never to cast me out from your own country.
And if some enemy of mine asks you
if he can take me off, you’ll not agree,
not while you’re still alive.
by the Earth, by Helios’ sacred light,
by all the gods—I’ll do what I’ve just heard.
That’s good. And if you betray this promise,
what happens to you then?
May I then suffer
the punishment that falls on profane men.
All is well. Now, go your way in peace.
I’ll come to your city as quickly as I can,
once I’ve completed what I mean to do,
and my plans here have been successful.
May Hermes, noble son of Maia,
go with you on your return, Aegeus.
I hope you’ll get what your heart’s so set on,
for in my eyes you’re a worthy man.
Oh Zeus, and Justice, child of Zeus,
and flaming Helios—now, my friends,
we’ll triumph over all my enemies.
The plans I’ve made have been set in motion.
I’m confident my enemies will pay,
they’ll get their punishment. For at the point
when I was most in trouble, this man came
and helped me plan safe harbour for myself.
I’ll lash my ship’s cable to Aegeus,
once I’ve made it to Athena’s city.
Now I’ll tell you all the things I’m planning—
though you’ll get little pleasure from my words.
I’m going to send one of my household slaves
to ask Jason to come and visit me.
Once he’s here, my words will reassure him.
I’ll tell him I agree with what he’s doing,
that leaving me for this royal alliance
is a fine idea—he’s acted properly
and made the right decisions. Then I’ll ask
if my children can remain. My purpose
is not to leave them in a hostile land
surrounded by insulting enemies,
but a trick to kill the daughter of the king.
For I’ll send the children to her with gifts.
They’ll carry presents for the bride, as if
requesting to be spared their banishment—
a finely woven robe and a tiara
of twisted gold. If she accepts those presents
and puts them on, she’ll die—and painfully.
And so will anyone touching the girl.
I’ve smeared strong poisons on those gifts.
So much for that. I’ll say no more about her.
But the next thing I’ll do fills me with pain—
I’m going to kill my children. There’s no one
can save them now. And when I’ve done this,
wiped out Jason’s house completely, I’ll leave,
evading the punishment I’d receive
for murdering my darling children,
a sacrilegious crime. You see, my friends,
I won’t accept my enemies’ contempt.
So be it. What good does life hold for me now?
I have no father, no home, no refuge.
I was wrong to leave my father’s house,
won over by the words of that Greek man,
who now, with the gods’ help, will pay the price.
He’ll never see his children alive again,
the ones I bore him, nor have more children
with his new bride, for she’s been marked to die
an agonizing death, poisoned by my drugs.
Let no one think that I’m a trivial woman,
a feeble one who sits there passively.
No, I’m a different sort—dangerous
to enemies, but well disposed to friends.
Lives like mine achieve the greatest glory.
Since you’ve shared your plans with me, I urge you
not to do this. I want to help you,
holding to the standards of human law.
In this matter there’s no choice. I forgive
what you just said, because, unlike me,
you don’t have to bear this suffering.
But, lady, can you stand to kill your children?
Yes. It will be a mortal blow to Jason.
But as a woman it will devastate you.
That’s beside the point. Until that time
it’s useless to continue talking.
[Medea goes to door of the house and calls inside]
You in there . . .
[Enter Nurse from the house]
. . . go now and fetch Jason here.
When I need to trust someone, I choose you.
Tell him nothing of what I mean to do,
if you like your mistress and are a woman.
[Exit Medea into the house and the Nurse off stage]
Since ancient times, Erechtheus’ sons
have been especially blessed,
children of the sacred gods,
from a holy country never conquered,
never ransacked by its enemies.
Fed on glorious fruits of wisdom,
they stride lithely through the sunlit air,
where, so the story goes, the Muses,
nine maidens of Pieria, gave birth
to golden-haired Hermione.
And people celebrate how Aphrodite,
while drawing water from the stream,
the flowing river of the lovely Cephissus,
breathes down upon the land
sweet, temperate winds,
while she binds within her hair
garlands of sweet-smelling roses,
sending Love to sit at Wisdom’s side,
to foster all fine things.
How will this city of sacred streams,
this land of strolling lovers,
welcome you—a killer,
who slaughtered her own children,
an unholy woman—among its people?
Consider this—the killing of your children.
Consider the murder you are going to do.
By your knees we beg you,
in every way we know,
do not slaughter your own children.
Where will your hands and heart
find the strength, the courage
to dare this dreadful action?
How will you look at them,
your children, and not weep
for their murderous fate?
When they kneel before you,
and implore your mercy,
you’ll find it impossible
to steel your heart,
then soak your hands
in your own children’s blood.
[Enter Medea from the house and, from the side, Jason with the Nurse]
I’ve come, as you requested. You hate me,
but I’m here, and I’m prepared to listen.
Woman, what it is you now want from me?
Jason, I ask you to forgive me
for what I said before. My anger
you should be able to put up with,
since we two have shared many acts of love.
I’ve been debating with myself. I realize
I’ve been in the wrong. I tell myself,
“I’m a fool. Why am I in such a rage,
resenting those who offer good advice?
Why fight against the rulers of this land,
or against my husband, whose actions serve
my own best interests with this royal marriage,
producing brothers for my children?
Why can’t I stop being angry? What’s wrong with me,
when gods are being so kind? Don’t I have children?
Don’t I know we’re going into exile,
where friends are hard to find?” With thoughts like these,
I recognized how foolish I had been,
how senseless it was to be so annoyed.
So now I agree with you. It strikes me
you’ve been acting prudently, by forging
this marriage link on our behalf. I was mad.
I should have worked with you in this design,
helped you with your plans, stood there beside you
in this marriage, rejoiced along with you
for this union with your bride. But women are,
well, I won’t say bad—we are what we are.
You shouldn’t copy the bad things we do,
repaying foolishness with foolishness.
So I give in. I admit that I was wrong.
But now I see things in a better light.
[Medea goes to the door of the house and calls inside]
Children, come out here—leave the house.
[Enter the children with the Tutor]
Come on out. Welcome your father here—
talk to him with me. You and your mother
will end the bad blood we’ve had in this family.
We’ve patched things up, and no one’s angry now.
Take his right hand. Oh, it’s harsh to think
of what the future hides.
[Medea hugs her children]
Oh my children,
will you keep holding your dear arms out like this
through all the many years you have to live?
Oh dear, I’m just too tearful, too afraid!
My delicate eyes keep filling up with tears,
now I’ve stopped this quarrel with your father.
My eyes, too, begin to weep pale tears.
May this bad luck proceed no further.
Lady, I approve of what you’re saying now.
Not that I blame you for what went on before.
For it’s quite natural in the female sex
to get angry when their husbands set up
secret schemes to plan another secret marriage.
But your heart has changed now for the better.
Although it took a while, you understand
the wiser course of action. In doing so,
you’re acting like a woman of good sense.
Now, as for you, my children, your father
has not been neglectful. With the gods’ help,
I’ve made secure provision for you.
At some future date, you’ll be leaders here,
in Corinth, alongside your new brothers.
But first you must grow up. As for the rest,
your father and the god who smiles on him
will take care of that. I pray I see you
mature into fine young men, victorious
over all my enemies.
[Medea starts to weep]
why turn away? Why weep and fill your eyes
with these pale tears? What I have said,
does that not make you happy?
I was thinking of the children.
I will see that they are well looked after.
I will cheer up. I trust what you have said.
But it’s a woman’s nature to shed tears.
But why be so tearful with the boys?
I gave birth to them. When you made that prayer
about them growing up, I felt pity,
wondering how things would turn out for them.
But let’s discuss the reasons for your visit.
I’ve mentioned some. Now I’ll let you know the rest.
Since the rulers here are keen to banish me,
I recognize the best thing I can do
is try not to stand in their way or yours,
by staying here. This royal house thinks me
their enemy. So I’ve made up my mind
to leave this country and go into exile.
But you should beg Creon to spare our boys,
not banish them, so they can grow up here,
under your direction.
Well, I don’t know
if I can convince him. But I should try.
You could tell your wife to ask her father
not to send the children into exile.
A good idea. I think I can persuade her.
You will, if she’s a woman like the rest.
And I’ll give you some help. I’ll send her gifts,
by far the finest human gifts I know,
a finely woven gown, a diadem
of twisted gold. The boys will take them.
One of my servants must fetch them here—
[Medea gestures to a servant]
You—bring me those presents right away.
[Servant goes into the house]
She’s got more than one reason to be happy,
that wife of yours. She’s blessed in countless ways.
In you she’s found a very worthy man
to share her bed—and now she gets these gifts,
which my grandfather Helios once gave
to his descendants.
[The servant returns with the gifts. Medea takes them and hands them over to her children]
take up these wedding gifts and carry them
as offerings to the happy royal bride.
What she’s getting will be worthy of her.
What are you doing, you foolish woman,
disposing of these things of yours? Do you think
the royal house lacks clothes or gold? Keep them.
Don’t give them away. If my wife values me,
she’ll set more store on what I want to do
than on rich possessions. I’m sure of that.
Don’t say that. Even the gods, they claim,
are won by gifts. And among mortal men,
gold works more wonders than a thousand words.
Her fortune’s on the rise. Gods favour her.
She’s young, with royal power to command.
But to spare my children banishment,
I’d trade more than gold. I’d give my life.
Now, children, when you get inside the palace,
you must beg this new wife of your father’s,
my mistress, not to send you into exile.
When you present these gifts, your must make sure
she takes them from you herself, in her own hands.
Now go and be quick about it. Good luck!
Bring your mother back news of your success,
the happy news she so desires to hear.
[Exit Jason and the children, with the Nurse and Tutor]
I’ve no longer any hope
that these children stay alive,
as they stroll to their own slaughter.
The bride will take her diadem,
she’ll take her golden ruin.
With her own hand she’ll fix
across her lovely yellow hair
the jewelry of death.
The unearthly gleam, the charm
will tempt her to put on the robe
and ornament of twisted gold.
Her marriage bed will lie among the dead.
That’s the trap she’ll fall in.
That’s how she’ll die.
She can’t escape destruction.
And you, unlucky man,
married to the daughter of a king—
how ignorant you are right now,
bringing death to both your sons,
to your bride an agonizing end.
You most unfortunate man,
how wrong you were about your destiny.
Next, I mourn your sorrows,
unhappy mother of these children,
intent on slaughtering your sons,
because your lawless husband
left you and your marriage bed
and now lives with another wife.
[Enter the Tutor with the children]
My lady, your children won’t be exiled.
The royal bride was happy to accept,
with own hands, the gifts you sent her.
Now the boys have made their peace with her.
[Medea starts to weep]
What’s wrong? Why do you stand there in distress?
Things have worked out well. Why turn away again?
Aren’t you happy to hear my splendid news?
Alas . . .
An odd response to the news I bring.
All I can say is I’m so sad . . . .
Have I mistakenly said something bad?
Am I wrong to think my news is good?
You’ve reported what you had to tell me.
I’m not blaming you.
Then why avert your eyes?
Why are you crying?
Old man, I have my reasons.
The gods and I, with my worst intentions,
have brought about this situation.
Be happy. Your children will one day
bring you back home again.
But before that,
I shall bring others to their homes—alas,
how miserable I feel.
You’re not the only mother whose children
have been separated from her. We mortals
must bear our bad times patiently.
I’ll do so.
But now go in the house. And carry on.
Give the children their usual routine.
[Tutor exits into the house. The children remain with Medea]
Oh children, my children, you still have
a city and a home, where you can live,
once you’ve left me in wretched suffering.
You can live on here without your mother.
But I’ll go to some other country,
an exile, before I’ve had my joy in you,
before I’ve seen you happy, or helped
to decorate your marriage beds, your brides,
your bridal chambers, or lifted high
your wedding torches. How miserable
my self-will has made me. I raised you—
and all for nothing. The work I did for you,
the cruel hardships, pains of childbirth—
all for nothing. Once, in my foolishness,
I had many hopes in you—it’s true—
that you’d look after me in my old age,
that you’d prepare my corpse with your own hands,
in the proper way, as all people wish.
But now my tender dreams have been destroyed.
For I’ll live my life without you both,
in sorrow. And those loving eyes of yours
will never see your mother any more.
Your life is changing. Oh, my children,
why are you looking at me in that way?
Why smile at me—that last smile of yours?
Alas, what shall I do? You women here,
my heart gives way when I see those eyes,
my children’s smiling eyes. I cannot do it.
Good bye to those previous plans of mine.
I’ll take my children from this country.
Why harm them as a way to hurt their father
and have to suffer twice his pain myself?
No, I won’t do that. And so farewell
to what I planned before. But what’s going on?
What’s wrong with me? Do I really want
my enemies escaping punishment,
while I become someone they ridicule?
I will go through with this. What a coward
I am even to let my heart admit
such sentimental reasons. Children,
you must go into the house.
[The children move toward the house but remain at the door, looking at Medea]
to attend my sacrifice, let such a man
concern himself about these children.
My hand will never lack the strength for this.
And yet . . . My heart, don’t do this murder.
You’re made of stone, but leave the boys alone.
Spare my children. If they remain alive,
with me in Athens, they’ll make you happy.
No! By those avengers in lower Hell,
I’ll never deliver up my children,
hand them over to their enemies,
to be humiliated. They must die—
that’s unavoidable, no matter what.
Since that must happen, then their mother,
the one who gave them life, will kill them.
At all events it’s settled. There’s no way out.
On her head the royal bride already wears
the poisoned crown. That dress is killing her.
But I’m treading an agonizing path,
and send my children on one even worse.
What I want to do now is say farewell.
[Medea moves to the children near the door, kneels down and hugs them]
Give me your right hands, children. Come on.
Let your mother kiss them. Oh, these hands—
how I love them—and how I love these mouths,
faces—the bearing of such noble boys.
I wish you happiness—but somewhere else.
Where you live now your father takes away.
Oh this soft embrace! Their skin’s so tender.
My boys’ breathing smells so sweet to me.
But you must go inside. Go. I can’t stand
to look at you any more like this.
The evil done to me has won the day.
I understand too well the dreadful act
I’m going to commit, but my judgment
can’t check my anger, and that incites
the greatest evils human beings do.
[Medea shepherds the children into the house, leaving the Chorus alone on stage]
Often, before this present time,
I’ve gone into more complex arguments,
I’ve struggled with more serious issues,
than my female sex should try to probe.
But we, too, have an artistic Muse.
She lives with us to teach us wisdom.
But not with all of us—the group of women
able to profit from our Muse is small—
in a crowd of women you might find one.
And I claim that with human beings
those with no experience of children,
those who have never given birth,
such people have far more happiness
than those who have been parents.
With those who have no children,
because they never come to see
whether their children grow up
to be a blessing or a curse to men,
their failure to have offspring
keeps many troubles from them.
But those who in their own homes
have a sweet race of children growing,
I see them worn down with cares
their whole life long. First,
how they can raise their children well.
Next, how they can leave their sons
a means of livelihood. And then,
it’s by no means clear that all the work
produces good or useless children.
There’s one final problem,
the worst for any mortal human—
I’ll tell you: suppose those parents
have found a sufficient way of life,
and seen their children grow
into strong, young, virtuous men,
if Fate so wills it, Death comes,
carries off the children’s bodies,
away to Hades. What profit, then,
is there for us and our love of sons,
if the gods inflict on mortal men,
in addition to their other troubles,
this most painful extra grief.
[Enter Medea from the house]
My friends, I’ve long been waiting in suspense
to see what’s happening in the royal house.<
Now I see one of Jason’s servants coming.
His hard rapid breathing indicates to me
he’s bringing news of some fresh disaster.
[Enter the Messenger, coming from the royal palace]
Medea, you must escape—leave this place.
You’ve done an awful deed, broken every law.
Take ship and go by sea—or go overland
by chariot. But you must go from here.
What’s happened that I have to run away?
The king’s daughter has just been destroyed,
her father, too—Creon. You poisoned them.
What really splendid news you bring.
From now on, I’ll consider you a friend,
one of my benefactors.
Are you in your right mind, lady, or insane?
To commit this crime against the royal house,
and then be happy when you hear the news,
without being afraid?
I have some remarks to offer in reply.
But, my friend, don’t be in such a hurry.
Tell me of their deaths. If you report
they died in pain, you’ll double my rejoicing.
When your two children came with their father
and went in the bride’s home, we servants,
who had shared in your misfortune, were glad,
for a rumour spread at once from ear to ear
that you and your husband’s previous quarrel
was now over. Someone kissed the boys’ hands,
someone else their golden hair. In my joy,
I went with the children right inside,
into the women’s quarters. Our mistress,
whom we now look up to instead of you,
before she caught sight of your two children,
wanted to fix her eyes on Jason only.
But then she veiled her eyes and turned away
her white cheek, disgusted that they’d come.
Your husband tried to change the young bride’s mood,
to soften her anger, with these words,
“Don’t be so hard-hearted with your family.
Check your anger, and turn your face this way,
look at us again, and count as friends of yours
those your husband thinks are friends of his.
Now, receive these gifts, and then, for my sake,
beg your father not to exile these two boys.”
Once she saw the gifts, she did not hold out,
but agreed in everything with Jason.
And before your children and their father
had gone any distance from the palace,
she took the richly embroidered gown
and put it on, then arranged the golden crown,
fixing it in her hair at a bright mirror,
smiling at her body’s lifeless image there.
Then she stood up from her seat and strolled
across the room, moving delicately
on her pale feet, delighted with the gifts,
with a great many glances to inspect
the straightness of the dress against her legs.
But then it happened—a horrific sight.
She changed colour, staggered back and sideways,
trembling, then fell into her chair again,
almost collapsing on the floor. An old woman,
one of her servants, thinking it was a fit
inspired by Pan or by some other god,
shouted in festive joy, until she saw
the white spit foaming in her mouth, her eyes
bulging from their sockets, and her pale skin
quite drained of blood. The servant screamed again—
this time, to make up for her former shout,
she cried out in distress. Another slave
ran off at once towards her father’s palace,
and another to the girl’s new husband
to tell him the grim fate his bride had met.
The whole house rang with people’s footsteps,
as they hurried back and forth. By the time
it would take a fast runner to complete
two hundred yards and reach the finish line,
her eyes opened—the poor girl woke up,
breaking her silent fit with a dreadful scream.
She was suffering a double agony—
around her head the golden diadem
shot out amazing molten streams of fire
burning everything, and the fine woven robe,
your children’s gift, consumed the poor girl’s flesh.
She jumped up from the chair and ran away,
all of her on fire, tossing her head, her hair,
this way and that, trying to shake off
her golden crown—but it was fixed in place,
and when she shook her hair, the fire blazed
twice as high. Then she fell down on the ground,
overcome by the disaster. No one
could recognize her, except her father.
Her eyes had lost their clear expression,
her face had changed. And there was blood
on top her head, dripping down, mixed with fire.
The flesh was peeling from her bones, chewed off
by the poison’s secret jaws, just like resin
oozing from a pine tree. An appalling sight!
Everyone was too afraid to touch the corpse—
what we’d seen had warned us. But her father,
poor wretch, didn’t know what she’s been through.
He came unexpectedly into the house
and stumbled on the corpse. He cried aloud,
embraced his daughter, and kissed her, saying,
“My poor child, what god has been so cruel
to destroy you in this way? Who’s taken you
away from me, an old man near my death?
Oh my child, I wish I could die with you.”
He ended his lamenting cries. But then,
when he tried to raise his old body up,
he was entangled in that woven dress,
like ivy wrapped around a laurel branch.
He struggled dreadfully, trying to get up
onto his knees, but she held him down.
If he used force, he tore his ancient flesh
clear off his bones. The poor man at last gave up.
His breathing stopped, for he couldn’t stand the pain
a moment longer. So the two of them lie dead—
the daughter, her old father, side by side.
It’s horrible, something to make one weep.
Concerning you there’s nothing I will say.
For you’ll know well enough the punishment
that’s coming to you. As for human life,
it seems to me, and not for the first time,
nothing but shadows. And I might say,
without feeling any fear, those mortals
who seem wise, who prepare their words with care,
are guilty of the greatest foolishness.
Among human beings no one is happy.
Wealth may flow in to produce a man
more lucky than another, but no man,
is ever happy, no one.
This is the day, it seems,
the god tightens trouble around Jason,
and justly so. Oh poor Creon’s daughter,
how we pity your misfortune. You’re gone,
down in Hades’ home—the price you pay
for marrying Jason.
I’ve made up my mind, my friends.
I’ll do it—kill my children now, without delay,
and flee this land. I must not hesitate.
That will hand them over to someone else,
to be slaughtered by a hand less loving.
No matter what, the children have to die.
Since that’s the case, then I, who gave them life,
will kill them. Arm yourself for this, my heart.
Why do I put off doing this dreadful act,
since it must be done? Come, pick up the sword,
wretched hand of mine. Pick up the sword,
move to where your life of misery begins.
Don’t play the coward. Don’t remember now
how much you love them, how you gave them life.
For this short day forget they are your children—
and mourn them later. Although you kill them,
still you loved them. As a woman, I’m so sad.
[Exit Medea into the house]
Hail to Earth,
Hail to the Sun,
whose rays illuminate all things.
Turn your eyes, look down,
see this destroying woman,
before she sets her bloody hands,
her instruments of murder,
onto her own children,
those offshoots of your golden race.
It’s a fearful thing for men
to spill the blood of gods.
O light which comes from Zeus,
stop her, take from the house
this blood-thirsty savage Fury
gripped by the spirit of revenge.
The pain you felt in giving birth
was useless, wasted.
Those children you so love,
you bore them all in vain.
You who left behind you
the inhospitable passage
where the Symplegades dance,
those deadly, dark-blue rocks,
you unhappy woman,
why does your anger
fall so heavily upon your heart,
and one harsh murder
follow so quickly on another?
The polluting moral stain
that taints all mortal men
who shed their family blood
upon the earth—that’s hard to bear.
For the gods send down
onto the houses of the ones who kill
sorrows to match their crimes.
CHILD [from inside the house]
Help me . . . help . . .
Did you hear that?
Did you hear the children cry?
That wretched, evil woman!
CHILD [from within]
What do I do? How can I escape
my mother’s hands?
I don’t know, dear brother.
It’s over for us . . .
CHORUS [shouting in response]
Should I go in the house?
I’m sure I must prevent this murder.
Yes—for the love of gods, stop this! And hurry!
The sword has almost got us—like a snare!
You hard and wretched woman,
just like stone or iron—
to kill your children,
ones you bore yourself,
sealing their fate with your own hands.
Of all women that ever lived before
I know of one, of only one,
who laid hands on her dear children—
and that was Ino,
driven to madness by the gods,
when Hera, Zeus’ wife,
sent her wandering in a fit
away from home,
that sad lady leapt into the sea,
because she’d killed her sons
a most unholy murder.
She walked into the surf
at the sea’s edge, perishing
so she could join in death
her own two children.
But what horror still remains
after what’s happened here?
A woman’s marriage bed—
so full of pain—how many evils,
has it brought on humankind?
[Enter Jason with attendants]
You women standing there beside the house,
where’s Medea, who’s done these awful things?
Is she still inside? Or has she left here?
She’ll have to hide herself under the earth,
or else fly up to heaven’s overarching vault,
if she’s going to avoid her punishment
from the royal house. Did she really think
she could kill the rulers of this country
and get away unharmed? But at this point
she’s no concern of mine. I’m worried
for my children. Those whom she has wronged
will take care of her. I’ve come for the boys,
to save their lives, in case the next of kin
try to harm me and mine, retribution
for their mother’s profane murders.
Unhappy man, you don’t know the full extent
of your misfortune, or you would not say this.
What is it? Does she plan to kill me, too?
Your boys are dead, killed by their mother’s hand.
No. What are you saying? Woman,
you have destroyed me.
The boys are dead.
You must fix your mind on that. They’re gone.
Where did she do this? Inside or outside?
Open the doors and you will see them,
your slaughtered children.
JASON [shouting into the house, as he shakes the doors]
You slaves in there,
remove the bar from this door at once,
withdraw the bolts, so I may see two things—
my dead sons and their murderer, that woman
on whom I shall exact revenge.
[Jason shakes the doors of the house, which remain closed. Medea appears in a winged chariot, rising above the house. The bodies of the two children are visible in the chariot]
Why are you rattling the doors like that,
trying to unbar them so you can find
their bodies and me, the one who killed them?
Stop trying. If you want something from me,
then say so, if you want to. But you’ll never
have me in your grasp, not in this chariot,
a gift to me from my grandfather Helios,
to protect me from all hostile hands.
You accursed woman, most hateful
to the gods and me and all mankind.
You dared to take the sword to your own boys,
you—the one who bore them—and to leave me
destroyed and childless. Having done this,
after committing this atrocious crime,
can you still look upon the earth and sun?
May you be destroyed! Now I understand—
I must have lost my mind to bring you here,
from that savage country, to a Greek home.
You were truly evil then—you betrayed
your father and the land that raised you.
But the avenging fury meant for you
the gods have sent to me. You slaughtered
your brother in your home, then came aboard
our fine ship, the Argo. That’s how you began.
When you married me and bore my children,
in your lust for sex and our marriage bed,
you killed them. No woman from Greece would dare
to do this, but I chose you as my wife
above them all, and that has proved to be
a hateful marriage—it has destroyed me.
You’re not a woman. You’re a she-lion.
Your nature is more bestial than Scylla,
the Tuscan monster. But my insults,
multiplied a thousand fold, don’t hurt you.
Your heart’s too hard for that. So be off,
you shameful murderer of your children.
Let me lament my fate. I’ll get no delight
from my new bride, nor will I ever speak
to my own living children, the two boys
I bred and raised. They’re lost to me.
I would reply to your words at length,
if father Zeus did not already know
what I did for you and what you did to me.
You weren’t going to shame my marriage bed
and have a pleasant life ridiculing me.
Nor was that royal bride or Creon,
who gave her to you, going to banish me,
throw me from here with impunity.
So if you want, call me a lioness
or Scylla, who lives on Tuscan shores.
For I’ve made contact with your heart at last.
You have your own share of pain and sorrow.
That’s true. But there’s relief in knowing
you cannot laugh at me.
O my children,
you had such an evil mother!
O my children,
victims of your father’s evil actions!
At least it was not my hand that killed them.
No. It was an insult—your new marriage.
Was it right to murder them for that?
Do you think that insult to a woman
is something insignificant?
Yes, I do,
to a woman with good sense. But to you
it’s completely evil.
Well, your sons are gone.
That should cause you pain.
I think their spirits live
to take out their revenge on you.
The gods are aware who began this fight.
Yes, they well know your detested heart.
Keep up your hate. How I loathe your voice.
And I hate yours. It won’t be difficult
for the two of us to part.
Tell me how.
What shall I do? For that’s what I want, too.
Let me bury these dead boys and mourn them.
Never. My own hands will bury them.
I’ll take them to Hera’s sacred lands
in Acraia, so no enemy of mine
will commit sacrilege against them
by tearing up their graves. And in this place,
this land of Sisyphus, I’ll initiate
a solemn celebration, with mystic rites,
future atonement for this wicked murder.
I’ll now go to the land of Erechtheus,
to live with Aegeus, son of Pandion.
As for you, you’ll have a miserable death,
as is fitting for a coward. Now you’ve seen
the bitter ending of your marriage to me,
your head will be smashed in, when you’re hit
by a moldy relic of your ship the Argo.
May the avenging Fury of our children
destroy you—may you find blood justice.
What god or spirit listens to you,
a man who doesn’t keep his promises,
a man who deceives and lies to strangers?
You polluted wretch! Child killer!
Bury that wife of yours.
I’ve lost both my sons.
Your grief’s not yet begun.
Wait until you’re old.
Oh such loving children!
Their mother loved them. You did not.
And yet you killed them?
Yes, to injure you.
Alas, how I long to see my dear boys’ faces,
to hold them in my arms.
So now, at this point,
you’ll talk to them, you’ll give them an embrace.
Before this, you shoved them from you.
By the gods,
I beg you, let me feel their tender skin.
No. Your words are wasted.
do you hear how I’m being driven off,
what I must endure from this child killer,
this she lion, this abomination?
But I’ll use the strength I have for grieving
and praying to the gods to bear witness
how you have killed my children and refuse
to let me hold their bodies or bury them.
How I wish I’d never been a father
and had to see you kill my children.
[Medea’s chariot takes her and the children up and away from the scene. Exit Jason]
Zeus on Olympus,
dispenses many things.
Gods often contradict
our fondest expectations.
What we anticipate
does not come to pass.
What we don’t expect
some god finds a way
to make it happen.
So with this story.
More stories from – Ovid’s Metamorphoses