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MHS Library | Medea by Euripides

About "Medea"

“Medea” (Gr: “Medeia”) is a tragedy written by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides, based on the myth of Jason and Medea, and particularly Medea’s revenge against Jason for betraying her with another woman. Often considered Euripides’ best and most popular work and one of the great plays of the Western canon, it only won third prize when it was presented at the Dionysia festival in 431 BCE, along with the lost plays “Philoctetes”“Dictys” and “Theristai”. (Source: Classical Literature)

Olivia Sutherland triumphant in MacMillan Films Medea Staging (2016) (Wikipedia)


After the adventures of the Golden Fleece, the Greek hero Jason took his wife Medea into exile at Corinth. However, he then left her, seeking to advance his political ambitions by marrying Glauce, the daughter of King Creon of Corinth.

The play opens with Medea grieving over the loss of her husband's love. Her elderly nurse and the Chorus of Corinthian women (generally sympathetic to her plight) fear what she might do to herself or her children. King Creon, also fearing what Medea might do, banishes her, declaring that she and her children must leave Corinth immediately. Medea begs for mercy, and is granted a reprieve of one day, all she needs to extract her revenge.

Jason arrives and attempts to explain himself. He says that he does not love Glauce but can not pass up the opportunity to marry a wealthy and royal princess (Medea is from Colchis in the Caucusus and is considered a barbarian witch by the Greeks), and claims that he hopes one day to join the two families and keep Medea as his mistress. Medea and the Chorus of Corinthian women do not believe him. She reminds him that she left her own people for him, murdering her own brother for his sake, so that she can never now return home. She also reminds him that it was she herself who saved him and slew the dragon which guarded the Golden Fleece, but he is unmoved, merely offering to placate her with gifts. Medea hints darkly that he may live to regret his decision, and secretly plans to kill both Glauce and Creon.

Medea is then visited by Aegeus, the childless king of Athens, who asks the renowned sorceresss to help his wife conceive a child. In return, Medea asks for his protection and, although Aegeus is not aware of Medea’s plans for revenge, he promises to give her refuge if she can escape to Athens.

Medea tells the Chorus of her plans to poison a golden robe (a family heirloom and gift from the sun god, Helios) which she believes the vain Glauce will not be able to resist wearing. She resolves to kill her own children as well, not because the children have done anything wrong, but as the best way her tortured mind can think of to hurt Jason. She calls for Jason once more, pretends to apologize to him and sends the poisoned robe and crown as a gift to Glauce, with her children as the gift-bearers.

As Medea ponders her actions, a messenger arrives to relate the wild success of her plan. Glauce has been killed by the poisoned robe, and Creon has also been killed by the poison while attempting to save her, both daughter and father dying in excruciating pain. She wrestles with herself over whether she can bring herself to kill her own children too, speaking lovingly to them all the while in a moving and chilling scene. After a moment of hesitation, she eventually justifies it as a way of saving them from the retribution of Jason and Creon’s family. As the Chorus of women laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. The Chorus considers interfering, but in the end does nothing.

Jason discovers the murder of Glauce and Creon and rushes to the scene to punish Medea, only to learn that his children too have been killed. Medea appears in the chariot of Artemis, with the corpses of her children, mocking and gloating over Jason’s pain. She prophesies a bad end for Jason too before escaping towards Athens with her children’s bodies. The play ends with the Chorus lamenting that such tragic and unexpected evils should result from the will of the gods. (Source: Classical Literature)