Last Updated 06 Jan 2022

Euripides vs. Seneca: Medea

Category Medea, Tragedy
Words 1341 (5 pages)
Views 447

Medea, the famous character, known for killing her two sons to take revenge for her husband Jason’s betrayal, is a foreign woman in both Euripides’s and Seneca’s version of the play Medea. Although both plays are based on the myth, the idea of foreign woman, the Barbarian, is different when the two plays are compared.

Medea, in mythology, is from the land of Colchis, the south coast of Black Sea, close to the land of Amazons, traditionally considered an area populated by warrior women. Today it is located in the north of Turkey. Medea’s father is the king of Colchis. They are known as Barbarians by the Greek.

Jason, after pursuing the Golden Fleece for a long time, arrived in Colchis and asked the Golden Fleece from the king but the reaction of the king was brutal. Edith Hamilton adds a further insight to our understanding of how King Aeetes’s reaction and how he and the Greeks felt about the foreigners:

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” A great anger filled King Aeetes’s heart as he listened. He did not like foreigners, any more than the Greeks did; he wanted them to keep away from his country, and he said to himself, “If these strangers had not eaten at my table I would kill them.”

The image of the Barbarian king and Medea in this myth is frightening. Irrational, magic and supernatural powers have almost no place in Greek mythology, and Medea is one of the only two known witches in all Greek Mythology. Of course, as a foreigner Medea could expect all the special suffering, since the myth was most probably created in a Greek poet’s image of a Barbarian woman.

Euripides (c. 485-c. 406 B.C.) was the first person to use the myth of Medea as a basis for tragedy. He was also born in exile and died in exile.

it is obvious that during the time Euripides wrote Medea, the Greeks regarded the non-Greeks as inferior. There is no doubt that Euripides addressed this arrogance in his version of Medea, as the very first lines of the Prologue inform the audience that Medea is a non-Greek, a barbarian from Colchis, and the play takes place in Corinth where Jason and Medea are in exile. Medea is the first fully developed female character in a Greek play. It is no coincidence that she is a non-Greek, the strong willed, self-determined woman is a Barbarian. Medea, is an independent character in the play. She is not treated as Jason’s wife or as someone’s mother; she stands to be herself. Athenians were prejudiced against foreigners and women and felt both were inferior to Greek men.

Euripides used the myth of Medea as a basis for his play but altered the story to suit his purposes. By looking at the alterations made, it may be right to suppose that he disapproves of the attitude of Greek society toward the foreigners and questions their values, and reminds them of their mistakes.

One of the major changes he made was the decision of giving an emphasize on Medea being a barbarian and choosing not to stress on the inhuman, witch, half god qualities of her. He chose to portray her as “other” not just by being a foreigner but by being a woman who doesn’t except her fate.

What has happened to her could have happened to any other woman, betrayal and abandonment, but no other woman would have the fire of her words and reaction. As well as she is not a typical woman in this foreign land, she can not be considered typical for her own land either, as she is the murderer of her own father and brother. She is a woman in Greece but not just one of them as she is the unknown from the east and she can not be accepted to her land anymore as she is uprooted from her own country as she herself puts it.

It is hard to decide which character is good or bad in Euripedes’s Medea. Medea could have been much less sympathetic, more witch like or even more crazy but Euripides chooses to add human qualities to his famous barbarian character.

Medea, gets the most extreme revenge in Greek Drama. Would her revenge be the same if she was Greek? Jason in the play says “…You married me, bore my sons, and murdered them through jealousy of love. No woman in the whole of Hellas would have dared so much…”. It can be assumed that some Greek audience would think like Jason but this play is modern as well as ancient and so it can also be assumed that today’ s audience would think differently, she did what she did because she was deeply oppressed in many ways.

The inner fire which makes Medea to perform her violent murders is not only a savage desire. Medea’s sons are not from a Greek mother so they can never be Greek citizens and she herself says “…Shall I leave my children for my enemies to trample down…”. As herself is a barbarian and has been trampled down, she prefers death for her sons. She believes her sons belong to them only and death from the mother’s hand is better than being a. inferior foreigner for a lifetime.

Euripides, to strengthen the human qualities of Medea, used the chorus as a support, friend to her. The chorus is formed of Corinthian women and in many parts of the tragedy, we see empathy between the chorus and Medea and we witness them trying to help her.

Seneca was born in Spain and brought to Rome as an infant. It is implied that he probably had tuberculosis and because of his poor health, was sent, to Egypt, in his youth.Seneca was an exception to his times. He dedicated his life to become a virtuous person. His plays are full of blood but not he was not warlike at all. Many scholars claim that Seneca’s plays were written to be read and were never staged even during his time. Considering the common Roman entertainments, even Seneca’s plays were staged, the audience would be limited with intellectuals of the time.

Seneca’ s Medea is different to Euripides’s version, content wise as well structural wise. There are more monologues, the nurse’s (the stoic character who has the common sense in Seneca version) role is enlarged while the role of chorus (who empowered the friendship between the women of two different cultures in the Euripides’s version) is decreased. Seneca’s Medea is less human when compared to Euripede’s Medea.

Euripides’s character is a woman betrayed by her husband and would not do the things she had done unless she had not been torn apart by despair and anger. On the other hand, Seneca’s Medea, is a vengeful sorcerer. Her superhuman magical powers are given great prominence. She is driven to evil. Just as there was a vast difference between the Medeas of Euripides and Seneca, as there were great differences between the things they envisioned, the societies in which they lived, the audience for which they performed, the democracy / monarchy they practiced.

The idea of a foreigner in the Roman world was quite different from the idea of a foreigner in Ancient Greece. Seneca’s characters, although not as often as the Euripides characters, express concerns about cultural differences and conflicts. But the Roman writer concentrates more on other issues, because the monarchy he lives in, has different problems with its borderlands, imperialism, loss of traditional Roman identity and the corrupt emperors.

The tale of Medea has been told countless times in various ways. The two most well-known versions are those told by Seneca and Euripides. The two playwrights used the same myth of Medea and created two different worlds, both based on the barbarian child-murderer. The idea of a foreigner, even today, is a complicated issue. We need borders between the countries and can only travel with passports and visas. The tale of Medea is the story of a woman betrayed by her husband, of a woman who killed her sons and also of a woman who was alienated because she was a foreigner.

Related Questions

on Euripides vs. Seneca: Medea

How is Medea different from Euripides's Medea?

Unlike Euripides’ Medea, Medea herself expresses her detestation for Jason, King Creon, and princess Creusa at the start of Seneca’s play. In addition, Seneca chooses to reveal that Medea intends on killing both Jason’s new wife and new father-in-law, but has a different route of revenge planned for Jason himself.

How many lines are in the play Medea?

Medea (Seneca) Medea is a fabula crepidata (Roman tragedy with Greek subject) of about 1027 lines of verse written by Seneca.

Why is Jason so important in Medea?

Jason is made a more appealing figure by Seneca - thus strengthening the justification for, and power of, Medea’s passion. Nevertheless the increased degree of stage violence in the Seneca, and its extra gruesomeness, has led it to be seen as a coarser and more sensational version of Euripides’ play.

Why does Medea kill her brother in Medea?

After Jason is successful, Medea kills her own brother to distract her father and enable their escape. After their return to Iolcus, they were again forced to flee when Medea uses her powers to have Jason's uncle Pelias killed by his own daughters.

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