From Gerald R. Lucas

The Characters of Medea

Medea features a range of compelling and complex characters, each contributing to the intricate web of emotions, motivations, and conflicts that drive the play. These characters are complex and multi-dimensional, showcasing the intricacies of human emotions, desires, and moral dilemmas. They collectively explore themes of betrayal, revenge, gender roles, and the clash between personal desires and societal expectations. Euripides masterfully crafts these characters to engage the audience emotionally and intellectually, inviting contemplation of the complexities of the human condition.


Medea, by Frederick Sandys

The central character and tragic heroine of the play, Medea is a powerful and enigmatic figure. She is a foreigner, a sorceress, and a woman who defies societal norms. Medea’s character is defined by her immense passion, intellect, and determination. She is both a victim of betrayal and a vengeful agent of chaos. Medea’s fierce love for Jason turns into uncontrollable rage and a desire for revenge, leading her to commit unimaginable acts, including the murder of her own children. Her character explores themes of betrayal, exile, and the destructive power of unchecked vengeance.


Jason is Medea’s husband, who abandons her in favor of marrying Glauce, the daughter of King Creon. He embodies ambition, opportunism, and a desire for political power and social acceptance. Jason’s character is driven by self-interest and a pragmatic approach to life. He justifies his actions by claiming that his marriage to Glauce is necessary for the well-being of his and Medea’s children. However, his betrayal of Medea and his disregard for their past relationship fuel Medea’s vengeance. Jason’s character exposes the conflicts between personal desires, societal expectations, and the consequences of one’s choices.


The chorus in Medea consists of Corinthian women who serve as a collective voice and moral guide throughout the play. They offer commentary, express sympathy for Medea’s plight, and provide insights into the moral implications of the unfolding tragedy. The chorus represents the voice of reason and offers a contrasting perspective to the intense emotions and actions of the main characters. They also highlight the societal expectations placed upon women and the challenges faced by those who defy these norms.


Creon is the King of Corinth and the father of Glauce. He is a pragmatic ruler who prioritizes political stability and the preservation of his family’s reputation. Creon’s character embodies the traditional values and expectations of ancient Greek society. He initially sympathizes with Medea but is ultimately swayed by his fear of her potential harm. Creon’s decisions and actions contribute to the escalating tension and tragic consequences in the play.


The children, Medea’s two sons, hold immense significance in the play. They represent innocence, vulnerability, and the bonds of familial love. Their presence intensifies the tragedy as Medea is faced with the agonizing decision of sacrificing them to exact her revenge. The children symbolize the devastating consequences of Medea’s actions and evoke a profound sense of loss and tragedy.


Fatherhood in Medea

In Medea, the portrayal of fatherhood serves as a profound exploration of the oppressive nature of patriarchal society, as well as a means through which Medea challenges its authority. The inclusion of various fathers and father figures in the play, including Jason, Creon, Aegeus, Pelias, Aeëtes, and Helios, offers a complex examination of the roles and implications of fatherhood. Euripides suggests that the actions and influences of these figures shape Medea’s trajectory and illuminate the consequences of patriarchal power dynamics.

Jason and Medea, by John William Waterhouse

Jason, as Medea’s husband and father to their children, embodies the patriarchal expectations and values of ancient Greek society. However, his betrayal of Medea in favor of marrying Glauce reflects the disregard for familial loyalty and the prioritization of personal gain within the patriarchal framework. Medea challenges Jason’s role as a father by manipulating his love for their children, ultimately leading to their tragic demise. Through her actions, Medea subverts the traditional expectations of a father’s role and exposes the consequences of prioritizing personal desires over familial responsibilities.

Creon, the King of Corinth and father of Glauce, represents the societal norms and expectations enforced by patriarchy. He prioritizes political stability and reputation over individual emotions and well-being. Creon’s decision to banish Medea exemplifies the suppression of women and their agency within patriarchal systems. However, Medea manipulates Creon’s fear of her potential harm, securing a reprieve and challenging his authority. Her actions reveal the vulnerability of patriarchal structures when confronted by a determined woman who has been wronged.

Aegeus, the King of Athens, provides an alternative perspective to the patriarchal society of Corinth. He offers Medea refuge and protection, demonstrating a more sympathetic and compassionate father figure. Medea uses Aegeus to secure her escape from Corinth, exploiting his desire for an heir by offering him a fertility potion. In doing so, she undermines the patriarchal power dynamics and utilizes Aegeus as a means to achieve her own ends. Arguably, it’s this deal with Aegeus that seem to give Medea the realization that her real enemy is the patriarchal system that she is compelled to live within.

Pelias, Medea’s uncle, represents patriarchal authority and power. His usurpation of the throne from Jason’s father reflects the abuse of power within patriarchal systems. Medea, in her pursuit of revenge, manipulates Pelias and orchestrates his murder by deceiving his daughters. Her actions challenge the hierarchical power dynamics favoring male lineage and disrupt the traditional expectations imposed upon women. This story should be a warning to the chorus and their support of Medea.

Medea’s father, Aeëtes, and her connection to Helios, the Sun god and her grandfather, emphasize her exceptional powers and challenge the gender roles imposed by a male-dominated society. These associations highlight Medea’s resistance to the limitations placed upon her by patriarchal structures, elevating her beyond mortal boundaries and emphasizing her role as a powerful and complex female protagonist. Medea’s betrayal of her father by killing and dismembering her brother to aid Jason’s escape showcases the extremes to which she is willing to go in pursuit of her own goals. This act challenges the paternal authority and sacrifices familial bonds in her quest for vengeance, highlighting the tragic consequences of patriarchal oppression.

By including such a varied cast of fathers and father figures, Euripides delves into the multifaceted nature of patriarchal power and the consequences of its abuse. The play interrogates the role of fatherhood, exposing its potential for both support and betrayal. Euripides suggests that patriarchal systems, though entrenched, are not immune to challenge and that the actions of individuals can disrupt and expose the flawed nature of such systems. Medea serves as a timeless critique of patriarchal oppression, inviting reflection on the intricate relationships between fathers, power, and the human condition.