Medea killed her brother and left her father in order to follow Jason and his captured Golden Fleece to Corinth. They marry and have two sons. As the play opens, Medea is distraught with jealousy because Jason has repudiated her to marry the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. He insists that his new status will be for her own good and that of her children.

Medea and her sons are to be banished, but she begs a day's reprieve. She contrives to poison the princess bride with gifts that catch fire, consuming her and her father too when he tries to save her. In her madness, Medea "reasons" that she must kill her beloved children in order to avenge herself upon her husband.

The boys' cries can be heard from off stage as she slays them with a sword. The grieving Jason wishes that he had never begotten his sons, just as Medea wishes that she had never followed him out of her home.


An ancient tragedy of human jealousy and rage that led a woman to infanticide, the most "unnatural" of deeds--a deed that, for 2500 years since this play was written, has been a pathognomic for female madness. The Chorus chants "one woman, only one of all that have been, have I heard of who put her hand to her own children" when she was "driven mad by the gods" (line 1283-5).

At the end, Jason asks Medea why she would kill her children because of his marriage. She replies: "Do you imagine that loss of this is a trivial grief for a woman?"(line 1368). The "hero" replies, "for a woman of sense, yes." Yet, at least some occupants of the misogynist world of ancient Greece must have been left wondering to which view the great author of women's tragedies intended them to subscribe.


Translated by David Kovacs. The English text of the play comprises 66 pp. in this edition.


Harvard Univ. Press

Place Published

Cambridge, Mass.



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