Infanticide, depression, jealousy, revenge: How can this be love? The tale of Medea by Euripedes.
Medea and Jason's final conflict, and her final stab to his heart.
That Medea feels justified in her murderous actions and escapes unscathed at the end of the play begs the question in my mind, “what is right and what is wrong?” I question what is just and what is unjust. I would like to examine where Medea perceives the blame lies for the death of her children, and why.
In this final passage, the allegedly wronged, innocent Jason cries out for justice, painting Medea as a “foully polluted woman,” “lioness, killer” (Medea line 1408). He four times beseeches various gods for divine retribution for the four murders, that of his children and Glauce and Creon. Medea remains unmoved by Jason’s words, and unrepentant. Their rhetoric continues as each side accuses the other of wrong until the argument reaches a crucial point when Jason asks, “So why did you kill them?” (Medea line 1398). Medea’s calculating, spiteful motive is revealed in her chilling response, “To cause you pain,” (Medea line 1399). I find Medea’s responses to Jason’s dialogue exceptional. In line 1391 Medea’s response to Jason’s pleas to Fury and Justice turn the blame back toward him as an “oath-breaker” and “treacherous host” (Medea line 1391), placing herself squarely as the play’s avenged victim. I would like to consider whether Jason may or may not be just as culpable as Medea, for the murders, after violating his marriage vows.
In examining whether Medea is validated in her self-justification for the murder of her children, I would like to quote an excerpt from the book of Exodus, written somewhere between 1400 and 500 BC (Wiki Answers 2009). Murder and adultery are listed together here as serious sins, neither one greater than the other, as part of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Moses to the Israelites, Exodus 20:13, 14 , King James Bible (Sacred Texts 2009).
Medea’s own imputation that Jason’s adultery is as great a sin as her murders, (Medea line 1391) being in line with writings before her time of another nation suggests that the human conscience does not restrict itself to legal, religious or national norms. Medea’s conscience, her own inner sense of justice, tells her that enough blame falls on Jason to invalidate his pleas to the gods to punish her. This suggests that Medea is not all guilty or accountable for the murder of her children and that Jason is not all innocent.
In my first evaluation of Medea I found her to be barbaric and vicious in her murderous and self-seeking ways. By the end of this passage, considering the two sides to the argument of right and wrong, innocence and guilt, I withdraw my initial labelling of Medea. I class her now as human, complex. I feel that the human conscience is timeless. It has a hold on us. It tells us that nothing is one hundred per cent right, nothing one hundred per cent wrong. Instinctual conscience dictated the value system of the writer of Exodus many years ago in the same way that it dictates the value system of the character of Medea years later.
Today, like Medea, our own inner conscience or value system may rationalise our decisions which may seem wrong to some while seeming right to us. Perhaps it is the prerogative of each member of the human race to scapegoat our decisions onto an external element or person, just as Medea perhaps justifiably blames Jason for the murder of her children.