Medea and the Disruption of Athenian Ideals, Part VII: Honor and Erotic Passion

Winds & Waves

Time for more about Euripides’ Medea! Last time, we saw that Medea is a woman of extremes, but what drives her to such extremes in the first place? Here again is that quotation in which she lays out her motives:

σὺ δ᾽ οὐκ ἔμελλες τἄμ᾽ ἀτιμάσαςλέχη
τερπνὸν διάξειν βίοτον ἐγγελῶν ἐμοὶ
οὐδ᾽ ἡ τύραννος, οὐδ᾽ ὅ σοι προσθεὶς γάμους
Κρέων ἀνατεὶ τῆσδέ μ᾽ ἐκβαλεῖν χθονός
(1354-7)
You were not about to, having dishonored my bed, lead out a pleasurable life, mocking me; nor the princess; nor Creon, who, unpunished, gave the marriage to you: he was not about to drive me from this land.

Medea’s murderous and extreme acts stem from her sweeping interpretation of the heroic code of honor, which demands that she use any means necessary—even the killing of her own children—to bring vengeance upon those who have dishonored (atimasas/ἀτιμάσας)…

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