Medea is another ancient Greek play by Euripides, and yet, it is completely different from the other play I read last year. I read the Rex Warner translation in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces (seventh edition). As I haven’t read any other translations, all I can say is that this one was refreshingly easy to read. I loved it!
Part of what I loved was the character of Medea. She was a wronged woman, but ultimately a strong one. Medea had left her home to come to a foreign land, and now she was being cast aside. Her husband Jason had not only cheated on her but had cast her away and married another, younger woman.
Medea’s reaction to the situation and her subsequent actions are extreme. Like Lady Macbeth, she casts aside her instincts of kindness and, particularly, her motherly love. She murders her own children. But unlike when I read about Lady Macbeth, I felt Medea was in the right. She is acting out of revenge, while Lady Macbeth had acted out of selfish desire for power. I was cheering for Medea as I read her story.
It was gruesome, and I don’t want to suggest that every wronged woman should go and kill her children or husband in order to give revenge. In fact, I would suggest that revenge is not the best solution to problems in the modern world! That said, the concept of a strong woman standing up for herself really made me happy, and since this was a Greek play, the gruesome aspects of the revenge made it seem appropriately Greek.
As for the underlying Greek-ish-ness of this play, I should say first and foremost that I am not very familiar with Greek literature. I have not read very much. But this play seemed different in that I was not constantly made aware of the presence of the gods as I was with Homer and with the other Euripides play I read last year. The last lines of the play (sung by the Chorus) are especially interesting:
Zeus in Olympus is the overseer
Of many doings. Many things the gods
Achieve beyond our judgment. What we thought
Is not confirmed and what we thought not god
Contrives. And so it happens in this story.
I don’t really understand it. When I went back and read the two-page introduction to my volume, I read the translator’s comments on the role of gods in the story and I still didn’t understand much of it. But one line does stand out:
The play creates a world in which there is no relation whatsoever between the powers that rule the universal and the fundamental laws of human morality. (page 641)
My lack of noticing the gods, then, ultimately makes sense to me. Euripides showed how the gods and man really are separate. That subject made it feel more modern than ancient Greek.
I also want to add that while Medea is a play, I had no trouble following the story and action as I read it. It would be interesting to see it performed, of course, but reading it still conveys the force of character: the characters are strong enough to exist through their words.
I finished reading Medea a few weeks ago, and I feel that I’ve forgotten many of the other impressions I had at that time. I should write my reviews shortly after finishing a work!!
Have you read other Greek plays you can suggest?
How soon after finishing reading do you write your reviews? If you wait to write your review, how do you remember what you wanted to talk about?