Medea Study Guide

From Gerald R. Lucas
A tragedy must not be a spectacle of a perfectly good man brought from prosperity to adversity. For this merely shocks us. Nor, of course must it be that of a bad man passing from adversity to prosperity; for that is not tragedy at all, but the perversion of tragedy, and revolts the moral sense. Nor again, should it exhibit the downfall of an utter villain: since pity is aroused by undeserved misfortunes, terror by misfortunes befalling men like ourselves. There remains, then, as the only proper subject for tragedy, the spectacle of a man not absolutely or eminently good or wise, who is brought to disaster not by sheer depravity, but by some error or frailty. Lastly, the man must be highly renowned and prosperous — an Oedipus, a Thyestes, or some other illustrious person.

—Aristotle[1]

Topics for Consideration

  1. Medea's plan for revenge is not clearly announced until fairly late in the play. Analyze the formation in her mind of the decision to kill the children.
  2. Some critics refuse the play as, in part, a comment on women's subordinate role in Athenian society; they point out that Medea is a dealer in supernatural poisons, who escapes the consequences of her action on a magic chariot, that she is, in fact, an Oriental witch who cannot be regarded as representative of Athenian women. Is such a view justified?
  3. Analyze Medea's famous speech on the subordinate position of women, ll. 229–264. What seems to be her primary concerns? Are they justified by the actions of the men in the play?
  4. Medea is a woman, but Euripides has presented her as a figure previously thought of as exclusively male — a hero. Analyze her character in the play as an amalgam of the salient qualities of Achilles and Odysseus.
  5. Medea is a foreigner, an Oriental princess, and Jason, as well as some modern critics, attribute the ferocity of her revenge to the fact that she is a "barbarian". How does the contrast between barbarian and Greek function in the play?
  6. Does Medea fit Aristotle's definition of a tragedy (see side box)? Why or why not?

Secondary Texts

  • Lucas, Gerald (July 5, 2004). "Euripides' Medea: Patriarchal Terrorism". GRLucas.net. Retrieved 2018-08-17. Euripides' tragedy speaks more to the tragic flaw of a social order that oppresses women.

Notes

  1. Aristotle (1994) [350 BCE]. Poetics. Translated by Butcher, S.H. Section 2.